In 1980, two young girls living in northern Sri Lanka committed suicide by eating the seeds of Yellow Oleander, a common ornamental shrub that grows in most parts of the tropics and is cultivated across Sri Lanka in gardens and hedges. In the following year there were 23 cases of oleander poisoning, apparently spurred by the publicity of the first suicides. There are now thousands of cases every year.
It is not unusual for suicides to happen in clusters. These are also called ‘Copycat’ suicides or ‘suicide contagion’ for obvious reasons. Many researchers believe that highly publicised media accounts of suicide lead to an increase in suicidal behaviour.
In 1994, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention published recommendations for the media that could be equally applicable to all of us when we speak or write about suicide.
- Not presenting simplistic explanations for suicide – as suicide is a result of a complex interaction of many factors.
- Not engaging in repetitive, ongoing or excessive reporting of suicide in the news – this tends to promote and maintain pre-occupation with suicide among at-risk people, especially the young.
- Not providing sensational coverage of suicide – especially avoiding the use of dramatic photographs, for the same reason as above.
- Not reporting on the ‘how-to’ of suicide – avoiding technical details of the mechanism and procedures used.
- Not presenting suicide as a solution or a means of coping with a problem. Hence avoiding it being perceived as an attractive option by an at-risk person.
- Not glorifying suicide or persons who commit suicide. This may suggest to a suicidal person that society is looking up to this behaviour.
- Not focussing entirely on the suicide completer’s positive characteristics, but also acknowledging their problems.
One suicide is one too many. Let’s do everything we can to bring down the crazy statistics.