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Posts about suicide tend to go viral very quickly, often due to the sudden and tragic circumstances surrounding the deceased.
As is human nature, rumours spread just as quickly about any potential reasons for the suicide. Global issues such as the pandemic or its effects like unemployment are often cited in conjunction with more personal reasons like family or emotional stress. Personal details, if the deceased had been identified, can also make its way into public awareness.
Plenty of people share these news without ill-intent. Often times it’s shared out of sympathy, “How tragic that this happened to such a young person!” or “This is why something needs to done to help those with mental illness!”, but you may be surprised to learn that sharing such graphic imagery of a tragedy for shock value may not be the best idea.
1) Lack of empathy for the deceased
It is understandable that some may take it upon themselves to use the deceased as a martyr in rememberance. However, it is key to realize that unless explicitly stated by the deceased beforehand, such statements are only speculation.
One must remember that suicides involve a person with a full life, family, and friends. There is more to the person than the reason and method of their passing.
Widely sharing such a traumatic incident will be extremely distressing for family and friends of the deceased, especially if full details such as vivid descriptions of the suicide is shared.
2) Arouse public anxiety
Rising incidents of suicides also tend to arouse public anxiety, especially during stressful periods such as the current pandemic.
While suicide is indeed a public health issue and requires education around it, clumsy publicizing tends to do more harm than good in the public eye, heightening tensions and triggering emotional responses from others.
3) Suicide contagion
While the public may hear of rising suicide cases and grow anxious or worried, for those in a bad place, it may sound like a way out of a difficult situation.
When talk of a suicide is spoken of as the end-goal to desperate and overwhelming circumstances, it is likely to appeal to others in similarly difficult emotional positions.
This can trigger a suicide contagion, where the number of suicides or suicide attempts greatly increase following sensationalized suicide reporting.
What to do instead:
That is not to say we must sweep the pressing issue of suicide under the rug, but we must be aware of the way we speak about it.
As a general rule, information about suicides should be kept as general as possible, especially regarding personal information about the deceased.
Use sensitive and neutral language, keeping in mind grieving family and friends. Do not speculate of personal reasons for the suicide unless one can provide accurate context. Instead, honour the deceased by sharing fond memories of the person, or to raise respectful discussions on suicide warning signs and risk factors in appropriate ways.
Use trigger warnings in online discourse to allow others to mentally prepare for a difficult and potentially stressful topic.
If one is unsure of the appropriate ways to speak of suicide and mental health, check with a medical or mental health professional or NGOs such as Befrienders.
If you’re having problems or suicidal thoughts and need immediate assistance, reach out to Befrienders at:
Available 24 hours, 7 days a week.
Anne is an advocate of sustainable living and the circular economy, and has managed to mum-nag the team into using reusable containers to tapau food. She is also a proud parent of 4 cats and 1 rabbit.