Friday, May 27, 2011

Suicide: Media can lead to more tragedy

I was disappointed with Mark Volz's report on suicides at Fork Peck ("Indian youths: suicides reach crisis levels," March 21). His article included photographs of the deceased. The lead paragraph gave a specific "how to" of the method used. The overall tone of the article was sensationalistic.
                               
It is well-established that the occurrence of one suicide can lead to another suicide. This phenomenon is termed "copy cat" suicide, "suicide contagion" or "suicide cluster." It is also well-established that how the media reports a suicide can influence whether other suicides will follow.
The World Health Organization has developed guidelines for reporting suicide to minimize other suicides (www.who.int/mental_health/media/en/426.pdf). These guidelines include:
• Don't publish photographs or suicide notes.
• Don't report specific details of the method used.
• Don't glorify or sensationalize suicide.
Volz's article violated all of these guidelines. The article also violated local guidelines promulgated by the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, which state: "providing details of the mechanism and procedures used to complete the suicide may facilitate imitation of the suicidal behavior" (tiny.cc/Guidelines4SuicideReport).
Montana consistently has one of the highest suicide rates in the country. Native Americans have been especially hard hit. I appreciate the reporting provided by the journalists of this paper. I support the right to free speech. However, it's time that we take this issue seriously, for the sake of our young people and all the citizens of Montana regardless of age.
Bradley D. Williams, coordinator, Montanans Against Assisted Suicide and For Living with Dignity,