What we say about suicide matters greatly
From the Jackson Hole News & Guide Column Sound Mind
When suicide appears in the news nationally or locally, it affects us all.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death in Wyoming for people ages 10 to 34. In fact, our state’s suicide rate tends to be among the highest in the nation. Those statistics are heartbreaking, not only for those lives lost but also for families and entire communities.
Western states in general rank among the highest in U.S., and rates nationwide have increased as much as 30 percent over the past several years. On average 22 veterans die by suicide each day.
This is truly a public health issue that we need to be talking about.
It’s a difficult subject to talk about for various reasons, but the biggest barrier may be fear of saying the wrong thing. On a community level, how do we discuss the issue respectfully and responsibly?
Research shows that certain types of news coverage can increase the likelihood of contagion, especially in young people. Coverage by the media, including social media, can cause harm.
For example, news stories about individual deaths by suicide have the potential to do harm, and research shows that inappropriate coverage can trigger suicidal thoughts and behaviors in already vulnerable individuals. Specific details regarding methods of suicide should be avoided, as should anything that glorifies or romanticizes suicide or conveys shaming.
Not only to minimize risk but also to be respectful of the people who are affected by suicide, everyone should be sensitive to tone, content and language when publicly discussing suicide. Responsible media coverage should always include resources and education about suicide prevention, and avoid words or phrases that may be perceived as judgmental.
Language is an important part of both the media and individuals discussing the issue responsibly. Phrases like “committed suicide” or “attempted suicide” can add an additional layer of shame or judgment to a word that already carries so much stigma. Instead, “died by suicide” or “ended his (or her) life” is preferred.
When used responsibly media can correct myths and misperceptions and encourage those at risk to seek help. The media can play an invaluable role in educating communities about preventing suicide and eliminating the stigma surrounding mental illnesses. Articles about suicide can educate readers about risk factors, warning signs and local resources for intervention.
Education on the issue is very important. There are several options for free training, including the Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center’s Safe Talk program. Mental Health First Aid is another option, though the program is a broader training that addresses other topics in addition to suicide prevention. These training programs can give community members the skills to recognize the signs of suicide, ask questions and provide resources for intervention.
Without a doubt, discussions about this issue should be happening throughout our community and nationwide. The suggestions included are a great resource for all of us, not just the media, as we engage in public discussions regarding suicide and prevention.