September 23rd, 2011 19:25 EST
Michelle Linn-Gust, Ph.D Educates Two and a Half Men Writers About Suicide
When someone has ended his or her life, traditionally people have said he or she "committed suicide" without a thought to the stigma that the association of crime and sin can bring to it. Although today suicide is not considered a crime in any part of the United States, and many religions have altered their perspective of it, the change in language hasn`t filtered down from a most unlikely but influential place - The media.
For several weeks, the term "committed suicide" has been used all over the broadcast media. On his new daytime talk show, Anderson Cooper said his brother "committed suicide." And on "The View," both Barbara Walters and Whoopi Goldberg referred to Russell Armstrong of "The Housewives of Beverly Hills" as having "committed suicide."
According to Michelle Linn-Gust, International Speaker/Author, President of the American Association of Suicidology, and Co-Collaborator of the website SuicideFindingHope.com, "Language is slow to change as many Catholics still don`t know that the prominent denomination changed its stance in the past thirty years because clergy continue to believe in the view that suicide was a sin. However, when there is a suicide, the media have an opportunity to educate the public about suicide and lessen the stigma that the survivors of suicide loss feel following the death of a loved one."
Recently, national media recommendations on suicide were updated to reflect the changes that digital media have brought. These recommendations were created by several national suicide prevention organizations in tandem with media groups to ensure they met agreement among the two entities. Change in language includes using the expression "died by suicide" instead of "committed suicide."
In addition to educating the media and public about the change in language, there also needs to be a better understanding about the effect that suicide depiction has on viewers. As rumors swirled recently around how Charlie Sheen`s character would be written off of his former show, "Two and a Half Men," last night`s episode eluded that he died by suicide. He died after falling in front of a train - after his alleged fiancée came home to find him with another woman. The season premiere painted the character of Charlie as an unlikable and despicable person who will be missed by no one on the show.
According to Linn-Gust, "What script writers don`t realize is how the viewers, people who identified and cared about the character of Charlie Harper, will react. They have invested themselves into the show by watching and they could experience emotions much like any person who experiences a suicide loss."
Writing a suicide death into television and the movies presents an opportunity to educate the public on suicide loss. On SuicideFindingHope.com, there is a link to the Recommendations for Media Reporting on Suicide document, which was created to help journalists, editors, and others involved in the media industry with information on how to safely report on suicide and suicidal behaviors. After numerous cases of media reporting and subsequent increases in suicide, with research suggesting there is a link between how suicide was reported on in the media and suicide contagion, several groups gathered to create the Recommendations.
According to ReportingonSuicide.org, media and online coverage of suicide should be informed by using best practices. While some suicide deaths may be newsworthy, it`s the way media covers suicide that can influence behavior negatively by contributing to contagion or positively by encouraging help-seeking. Suicide Contagion or "Copycat Suicide" occurs when one or more suicides are reported in a way that contributes to another suicide.
Keeping the above information in mind, here are some important points for covering suicide:
- More than 50 research studies worldwide have found that certain types of news coverage can increase the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable individuals. The magnitude of the increase is related to the amount, duration and prominence of coverage.
- Risk of additional suicides increases when the story explicitly describes the suicide method, uses dramatic/graphic headlines or images, and repeated/extensive coverage sensationalizes or glamorizes a death.
- Covering suicide carefully, even briefly, can change public misperceptions and correct myths which can encourage those who are vulnerable or at risk to seek help.
Launching last week during National Suicide Prevention Week, the website Suicide: Finding Hope offers resources and information on suicide, mental illness and dealing with suicide loss. The site covers a variety of topics and largely focuses on providing support for suicide survivors, those coping with the loss of a loved one to suicide. It even includes links to research articles written by top researchers in the field and related videos posted on TED and YouTube. Suicide: Finding Hope not only offers people a library of information and resources to cope with and even prevent suicide, but also provides a chance for users to connect with others by commenting on posted materials and creating a sense of community.
Click above to watch the Suicide: Finding Hope Video Blog. Expert Michelle Linn-Gust offers her perspective on a myriad of topics related to suicide and suicide loss.
For more information on the site, please visit http://www.suicidefindinghope.com. Or to schedule an interview with experts in the field like Michelle Linn-Gust, Ph.D., please contact Erika at Erika@ballantinespr.com.