In order to eliminate stigma, we must be open and honest about suicide and mental illness. This is something I've said (or variations of it) publicly at least a thousand times. Other mental health advocates have said it too over the years and people (in particular the media) just aren't getting it.
I recently wrote a blog called "We Must Change The Way We Talk About Suicide" that suggested we stop saying "committed suicide" and instead say "died by suicide." Several people contacted me to say that suicide is still a very taboo subject that people are afraid to have an open and frank discussion about. How can we change the way we talk about suicide if we're not even talking?
In my opinion, the media has a responsibility for helping to push social justice issues forward. If it wasn't for the media and the unique platform it provides, many issues would be less talked about and progress would not have been made. While we hear of mental illness in the media on a daily basis, suicide appears to be a branch of mental illness less talked about.
One of my Twitter followers who works in local media had this to say about why he thinks suicide isn't talked about very much in the news:
I agree with what Dan has to say because I hear these same comments all the time from news producers, anchors, and reporters when I talk to them as to why they don't report on suicide very often. They're afraid if they openly talk about a particular method of suicide, there will several copy-cat suicides.
This is such an antiquated way of thinking. Maybe that logic applied before the boom in technology but nowadays ways to die by suicide are a Google search away. So why aren't we openly talking about suicide on the 6 p.m. news? We talk about the manner in which people were murdered all the time. Does that really inspire people to go off and murder somebody? We've seen a drop in the murder rate in Canada, not a surge.
Dan also had this to say:
I agree with this point too. We've heard about suicide bombers for years now yet Canada hasn't seen anyone blow themselves up in public in recent memory. What is the difference between blowing myself up and any other method of suicide in a public place? Suicide is suicide regardless of whether or not its connected to terrorism or mental illness.
If the public transit comes to a halt because of a suicide than lets be open about it. Lets stop saying "personal injury at track level." It's public knowledge people die by suicide on the public transit system more often than we'd like to think. While the mental health care system is working to prevent suicides let's stop disguising them and instead allow it to spark a conversation.
If an intersection is closed because of a suicide, let's talk about it. If a missing person's body is found and the cause of death is believed to be suicide let's stop disguising it as "no foul play is suspected."
In addition to the fear of copy-cat suicides, its been said we don't discuss suicide out of respect for the deceased. What is the difference between being pushed to your death and jumping to your death? If somebody was pushed onto subway tracks it would make the top story of every radio and television newscast and the front page of every newspaper. Yet if somebody jumps on their own volition you'll be lucky to see a death notice in the crevices of the newspaper and that's only if the deceased's family takes one out.
Should the media ever have a change of heart regarding how it reports on suicide I am not suggesting we publish the identity of the deceased who died by suicide. But let's take the shame and stigma out of suicide. Truthfully, people don't need a news report to be the final push for them to die at their own hand.
I've been extremely public that I'm not ruling out suicide as the way I eventually die; after all I am an advocate for doctor-assisted suicide being available to people with mental illness. If I ever die by suicide I want every media outlet I've done an interview with about mental illness to report on it and not disguise it as "Mental health advocate Arthur Gallant suddenly passed away." No, I want them to say "Mental health advocate Arthur Gallant died by suicide."
While we should always be remembered for how we lived and not how we died we need to call a spade a spade. Let's take away the fear and stigma out of talking about suicide.
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