New Media and Suicide
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New Media and Suicide

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Lucia Davis and Fi McAlevey. SPINZ Symposium Presentation, Dunedin, 2006. http://www.spinz.org.nz

Lucia Davis and Fi McAlevey. SPINZ Symposium Presentation, Dunedin, 2006. http://www.spinz.org.nz

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  • 1. (New) Media and Suicide “As long as people are able to communicate, it would be impossible to eliminate contagion entirely” (Sudak, Sudak, 2005, p. 497)[1].
  • 2. Lucia Davis Resource Development & Community Liaison Coordinator PO Box 10051, Dominion Rd, Auckland Phone (09) 300 7036 Mob: (021) 676 322 lucia@spinz.org.nz Fiona McAlevey South Community Liaison Phone (03) 366 6910 Cellphone (021) 572225 fiona@spinz.org.nz Working to reduce suicide by providing high quality information. Making mental health everybody’s business.4th National Suicide Prevention Symposium, Dunedin, 28 & 29 November 2006,Understanding Suicidal Behaviour - update your knowledge and practice www.spinz.org.nz
  • 3. Media and Suicide “Media can help or hinder suicide prevention efforts by being an avenue for public education or by exacerbating suicide risk by glamorising suicide or promoting it as a solution to life’s problems” [2] NZSPS: “Research evidence has shown that some styles of media reporting and portrayal of suicide and suicidal behavior may, under some circumstances, increase suicide rates through encouragement of ‘copycat’ suicide and trough the normalization of suicide as an acceptable response to adversity”
  • 4. Media and Suicide Media reporting of suicide may not affect the majority of us; however people in despair are often unable to identify solutions to their problems and may be influenced by what they read, view or hear. The effect may be more profound if someone feels able to identify with the person who died, perhaps because they are in the same age group or share similar experiences or ideals. An explicit report, particularly one which provides details about the method of self-harm, may increase the risk (or chance) that those who are vulnerable may take a similar course of action[3].
  • 5. HOW THIS COULD HAPPEN? (Case Study)John had grown up in a family that moved around every year, had experienced serious physical abuse and was struggling with reading.By 14 he was using alcohol and other drugs to escape his pain.He felt miserable most of the time with regular outbursts of uncontrolled anger.His girlfriend had publicly dumped him the previous week. John thought of suicide but rejected the idea as cowardice until he read an article about the funeral of a young person who completed suicide.
  • 6. Media and Suicide – Case Study  Already existing suicide risk: John has experienced long term difficulties, perhaps mental illness and current stressful events. His risk for suicidal behaviour is already heightened;  Identification: John reads that the young person had dropped out of school, was using alcohol and had broken up with his partner The more details he reads, the bigger the identification with the person who died;
  • 7. • Good option: Many people at the funeral spoke aboutwhat a cool person he was and how much he was missed. Hismates organized a guard of honour for him. If the articlepresents the death as heroic, romantic or something that theyoung person couldn’t escape from, John might think that thiswill work for him too. The more glamorized the funeral, themore appealing the scenario is for John;• Reinforcement: The greater the number of mediareports, the greater the likelihood of imitation.
  • 8. Examples of Research A 1995 study of coverage in Australian newspapers found that rates of male suicide increased following reports of suicide, with actual male suicides peaking on the third day after the story appeared[4]; There were 22 suicides on the Vienna underground in the 18 months after the sensational media coverage of one incident in 1986 (twice the total for the previous three years). The figures dropped dramatically after the media agreed voluntarily to limit the coverage for a time[5].
  • 9. Examples of Research In Hong Kong, when publicity was given to an unusual method of suicide in 1998, nine similar cases were reported within a month. Two months later it had become the third most common method, and within two years it was the second most common method. A study of the first 100 cases revealed similarities between the age, marital status, mental state and financial problems of all those who died and those reported in the media[6]. In US, during a journalists’ strike in the 1960s, when there were no newspapers to report suicides, some evidence emerged of a drop in suicide attempts among women[7].
  • 10. New mediaPeople use internet for: Information Social interactions
  • 11. Information About socially sensitive topicsSocial interactions Many people report a greater willingness to share thoughts and feelings online than they would face in face-to-face situations
  • 12. Internet and Adolescents a US perspective Computer access and use among adolescents have grown exponentially over the past decade (Becker, 2000) More than 80% of American youth 12 to 17 years use the Internet, and nearly half log on daily (Lenhart, Madden, & Hitlin, 2005) Adolescents use the internet primarily for social reasons (Roberts, Foehr, & Rideout, 2005) The internet has become a virtual meeting place where teens hang out with their peers to pass time Many adolescents reportedly prefer being online to other media, including the telephone, TV, and radio (Gallup Survey, 2002) More than 50% of teens possess more than one e-mail address or screen name, which they can use to send private messages to friends or to participate anonymously in online forums, such as chat rooms
  • 13. Search term ‘suicide’Searching the Internet using search term such “suicide” opens thousands of sites. (1) provisions of constructive and useful information aimed at providing greater understanding of the reasons for suicidal behaviour (2) advice and information for people seeking help with dealing with suicidal thoughts (3) “chat rooms” (allowing discussions between individuals) or newsgroups (enabling people to post messages on electronic news boards to which anybody may respond) (4) finally, there are sites that encourage suicides and/or provide instructions on suicide methods (Hawton, Kathryn, 2005)
  • 14. exampleswww.debxena.co.nzSuicide is the only sane thing the young or old ever do in this life. - quoted in Mark Twain: God s Fool, Hamlin Hill[8]www.satanservice.org explains in detail “how to kill yourself”:“Suicide is hard work, and should not be undertaken lightly. Its easy to do it badly, or make rookie mistakes. As with many things, the best results are achieved by thorough research and careful preparation[9]”.Other sites cited by Lars Mehlum (2000) are “A Practical Guide to Suicide”, “Death Net”, “Suicide Web”, “Church of Euthanasia”, “Voluntary Human Extinction Movement”, “Alt.suicide.holiday”.
  • 15. impactLars Mehlum (2000) was the first to report about the relationship between Internet, Suicide and Suicide Prevention: the Norwegian case:two people (a 17 years old girl from a town in the southern part of Austria and a man in his twenties from a town in western Norway) made contact through one of several Internet discussion groups on the subject of suicide. They met and put their lives to an end at the bottom of a 600 meter high cliff on the West Coast of Norway[10].
  • 16.  Merike Sisask, Airi Varnik and DanutaWasserman analysed seven Internet mediaportrayals and 188 readers’ spontaneous Internetcomments about a case of two adolescents whosurvived a serious suicide attempt in Estonia. All media reporting were dramatic, sensational,presenting photos from the “hot spot” chosen.They displayed very superficial, if any, aspects ofsuicide prevention. The media has been found to have an attitudeforming impact: more than half of the commentson irresponsible media portrayal expressed anegative attitude towards attempted suicide,suicide attempters, and their families, being ironic(31%), and angry (28%).
  • 17. The Virtual Cutting Edge: the Internet and Adolescent Self-Injury Janis L. Whitlock, Jane L. Powers, and John Eckenrode Two studies which investigate how adolescents solicit and share information related to self- injurious behaviour
  • 18. Results  Internet message boards provide a powerful vehicle for bringing together self-injurious adolescents  People exchange support, share personal stories about daily life events, and voice opinions and ideas  Online sharing may encourage greater and more truthful disclosures, especially among self-injurers, many of whom suffer from symptoms of depression
  • 19. The less positive side Participation in self-injury message boards may also expose individuals to a subculture in which self-injury is normalized and encouraged Easy access to a virtual subculture of like-minded others may reinforce the behaviour for a much larger number of individuals Some message boards contain links to pro-self-injury Websites where Internet users can purchase articles such as bracelets or clothing that signify self injury status and cutting clubs have been rumored to be a growing form of friendship ritual Discussions of techniques sharing, triggers, negative attitudes toward formal or informal help seeking, and the pleasures and pains of self-injury addiction may influence behavioural choices outside of the virtual realm It may also make some youth targets for individuals who falsely pose as supporters to accomplish other, less benevolent aims
  • 20. Coroners Act 2006 038 (Commenced: 1 July 2007)71 Restrictions on making public of details of self-inflicted deathsIf a coroner has found a death to be self-inflicted, no person may, without acoroners authority or permission under section 72, make public a particularof the death other than: (a) the name, address, and occupation of the person concerned; and (b) the fact that the coroner has found the death to be self-inflicted.The only grounds on which a coroner may under this section authorise themaking public of particulars of the death are that the making public ofparticulars of that kind is unlikely to be detrimental to public safety.
  • 21. Australia:Criminal Code Amendment (Suicide Related Material Offences) Act2005It is an offence to use the Internet, email and other onlineapplication to: •access, transmit, make available, publish or distribute material with the intention to directly or indirectly counsel or incite suicide •directly or indirectly promote or provide instruction on a particular method of completing suicide
  • 22. New Zealand Suicide Prevention Strategy  Goal 5: Promote the safe reporting and portrayal of suicidal behavior by the media (including print, television, film radio, drama, internet) to minimize the potential for imitation  The implementation of this goal will require joint strategies with the media to build an informed consensus upon which to develop resources, and agreed-upon codes of practice and policies for the safe and informative media reporting and portrayal of suicide
  • 23. Safety net What do we need?
  • 24. More Research To better understand the unique role the Internet may play in affecting off-line behaviour To better understand the relationship: internet (globalization) – suicide – suicide prevention
  • 25. Legislation
  • 26. To be proactive  if public suicide portrayal provides a model, the modelling process can lead ambivalent individuals not only toward suicide, but also toward life: “…articles about suicide behaviour on the Internet attract public attention… the Internet can be used both as a source for data collection and as means for suicide prevention… the Internet can be seen as one possible way to reach young people. Suicide prevention by intervening in spontaneous Internet site comments in a professional way may well be an avenue to educate this group” (Sisask, Varnik, Wasserman, 2005, p. 96)[13].
  • 27. in 2002, the German Society of SuicidePrevention chose the theme“New media and suicidality” for their biannualmeetingFantastic opportunities in suicide preventioncame out of it:• email• chat and SMS counselling• websites in the frame of a suicide preventionprogram• online-therapy with webcam• antidepressive psychotherapy via Internet• advertisement strategy for new target groupsfor suicide prevention in the Internet [14]
  • 28. References [1] Sudak, H.S., Sudak, D.M., (2005). The Media and Suicide, Academy Psychiatry 2005; 29: 495-499, http://ap.psychiatryonline.org [2] Mann, J.J et all. Suicide prevention Strategies, JAMA, October 26, 2005 – Vol 294, No 16 (reprinted) [3] Hunter Institute for mental Health, Response Ability, Resources for Journalism Education. Commonwealth of Australia, National Suicide Prevention Strategy, 2001 [4]Hassan, R. Effects of newspaper stories on the incidence of suicide in Australia: a research note. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 1995; 29(3), 480-483 [5] Etzersdorfer E., Sonneck, G. Preventing Suicide by Influencing Mass-Media Reporting: the Viennese experience 1980-1996. Archives of Suicide Research 1998; (1), 67-74 [6] Chung, W.S.D., Leung, C.M. Carbon Monoxide Poisoning as a New Method of Suicide in Hong Kong, Psychiatric Services 2001; vol.52. no.6 [7] Blumenthal, S., Bergner, L. Suicide and Newspapers: A Replicated Study. American Journal of Psychiatry 1973; 130:468-471 [8] http://www.debxena.co.nz/suicide_quotes.htm, 2000, date accessed: 15 august,2006 [9] http://www.satanservice.org/coe/suicide/metaguide.html [10] Mehlum, L. (2000). The Internet, suicide and suicide prevention. Crisis, 21, 186 - 188 [11] Beautrais, A.L., Collings S.C.D., Ehrhardt, P. et al. Suicide Prevention: A review of evidence of risk and protective factors, and points of effective intervention. Wellington: MoH, 2005 [12] Sisask, M., Varnik, A., Wasserman, D., (2005). Internet Comments on Media Reporting of Two Adolescents’ Collective Suicide Attempt, Archives of Suicide Research, 9:87-98, International Academy for Suicide Research, [13] Etzersdorfer, Elmar, Fiedler, George and Witte, Michael (Eds.) (2003). New Media and Suicidaity: Perils and Possibilities of Intervention. Goettingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, reviewed by Bronisch, T., in Archives of Suicide Research, vol. 9, number 4, 2004