Today’s front pages gleefully pick over the corpse of Robin Williams. Details of suicide method. Intrusion into a family’s grief. Speculation over “why” he did it, implying there was one specific cause.
I remember when I wanted to be a journalist: I could really make a difference, I thought; I could really change lives. There was a time when I felt that wasn’t possible, but I think it is. Those people who yesterday ignored and dismissed the Samaritans guidelines on reporting suicide might be in that position: they might change lives. For the worse. They might even… Well, there is an obvious conclusion. I hope more than anything it doesn’t happen.
Why it matters is because the guidelines are serious. They’re there for a reason, namely to prevent suicide. Because there is no one immediate cause of suicide: the factors are many and varied, from individual to individual. Research is ongoing, but woefully underfunded. And because of the individual nature of a suicide attempt, it’s incredibly hard to analyse what made one person survive and one person not.
But. It matters. What we do know is that research shows that if suicide methods are revealed in newspapers, or any media, they go on to be imitated. Not by everyone considering suicide, but by some.
It’s really important to stress something: shrugging your shoulders and saying “they’d have done it anyway” isn’t accurate. That simply isn’t right. Suicide is intensely complex. Introducing an idea can change ideas or plans or make new plans. If you introduce a method to someone that is more likely to succeed than that which they were already contemplating, they are more likely to succeed. That’s down to you. You did that.
Ah, but they would have looked it up anyway, everything’s on the Internet. But that’s not accurate either. There are different levels of curiosity and different levels of investigation from people who might have suicidal ideation. Not everyone looks up everything. Some people are susceptible to triggering. If you provide that trigger, you did that.
There are reasons why some medicines are sold in small doses. Think about it. It’s not because the nanny state is being overly cautious; it’s because it might really save some lives. It’s not done for fun.
It matters. If you ignore or dismiss the guidelines from experts in suicide, based on the best research we have available, to flog a few newspapers, that’s up to you. But remember: you did it.