Sometimes, especially during social media theme weeks like “Mental Health Week”, people share anything and everything they stumble upon relating to suicide.
After years of hard graft by academics, professionals and advocates in the suicide awareness and suicide prevention spaces, the message has finally started to break through the noise – talking about suicide does not plant the idea of suicide. This messaging hasn’t made it all the way through just yet. We still see enormous issues with schools and education for young people around suicide.
Even still today, when asked to deliver talks or educational workshops in schools on suicide, we are asked not to use the word suicide. Yes, you read that right. It’s like some whacky viral TikTok trend : Tell me about suicide without telling me about suicide.
In schools the myth of planting the idea of suicide still exists. I think there’s lots of reasons for this. We know that sometimes the church’s involvement in the school system can censor what information we share with young people. We know that teachers and staff are scared and nervous to take on subjects like suicide because they haven’t been given the training necessary to do so. We also know that suicide and self-harm can be very real issues in schools for students, parents and staff.
What it all boils down to essentially is the belief that talking about suicide will make people suicidal. It doesn’t happen.
Where the water gets muddy is when we don’t talk about suicide responsibly. Speaking irresponsibly about suicide can lead to something called suicide contagion.
Suicide contagion is :
"a process by which exposure to the suicide or suicidal behavior of one or more persons influences others to commit or attempt suicide. Evidence suggests that the effect of contagion is not confined to suicides occurring in discrete geographic areas. In particular, nonfictional newspaper and television coverage of suicide has been associated with a statistically significant excess of suicides. The effect of contagion appears to be strongest among adolescents and several well publicized "clusters" among young persons have occurred"
(Language : This piece describing contagion was published by the CDC in 1994. The word “commit” is no longer used by most people working in the field of suicide. You can read why here.)
Many people will be familiar with the media guidelines that The Samaritans have published and share. This document (read here) lays out the do’s and don’ts for the media when reporting on suicide. Suicide contagion is one of the biggest reasons for these guidelines. If you want to learn more about suicide contagion I wrote a separate blog post on it and you can read it here.
Talking about suicide responsibly shouldn’t just apply to the media though. It should be something that anyone with a social media account or anyone working with people should be doing. You can help with breaking down these myths and creating safe-spaces for people to reach out in. You can do this by informing yourself on how to speak responsibly about suicide, what language to use and what language not to use and most importantly by breaking the chain that suicide myths thrive in.
As I always say, this isn’t easy and for people who are new to this information it can be hard not to make mistakes. Don’t let the fear of making mistakes stop you from trying to make a difference. Making mistakes allows us to correct ourselves in front of others, which allows us to start a conversation on why we don’t use certain language or spread certain information, misinformation or disinformation.
No one gets everything right 100% of the time and no one is expected to. Small steps lead to great accomplishments and trying to talk more responsibly about suicide can have far-reaching affects and can only benefit the people we love and care about.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading. If you think this post might be meaningful, valuable or interesting for someone you know please share it with them.
Kayla is a postgraduate researcher & tutor in the Technological University of the Shannon, focusing on suicide & the internet. Kayla is also Co-Founding Director & Chairperson of Community Crisis Response Team, Founder of Driving Change and a Social Care Worker. You can read more posts via the Blog page, you can learn more about here work by navigating to the Home page.
If you feel like you need support the Samaritans can be reached internationally on 116 123. If you’re in Limerick or Ireland and are experiencing suicidal distress or you know someone in distress you can call Community Crisis Response Team from 5pm to 6am 7 nights a week on 085 1777 631.