#JamesDonaldson On #MentalHealth – How To Talk About #Suicide


#Suicide is a public health problem with major impacts. The ways in which it gets reported and talked about can help those who are struggling.

Lindsay Smith Rogers

In one of her first reporting jobs, journalist Aneri Pattani worked the crime beat and occasionally covered #suicides, which were grouped with homicides and fires. After her first articles on #suicides, she received feedback from prevention researchers, survivors, and people who had lost loved ones. They suggested using different phrasing, like “died by #suicide” instead of “committed #suicide,” and connected her with resources like Reporting On #Suicide.

Pattani had received no specific training or guidance about how to write about #suicide when she was in journalism #school at Northeastern in 2013. Instead, she learned on the job thanks to the tips people sent her. Pattani is now a national correspondent covering #mentalhealth and #suicide for Kaiser Health News. She is also an MPH student at the Bloomberg #School, where she connected with #suicideprevention researcher Holly Wilcox, a professor in #MentalHealth, to share existing guidelines, the research behind them, and practical tips on how to apply them in a free Coursera course called Responsible Reporting on #Suicide for Journalists.

But the curriculum isn’t just for reporters. “All of us can use tips on how we communicate with each other” about #suicide, Pattani said in an episode of Public Health On Call.

In fact, the language we use to talk about suicide, how we frame the issue, and the content that gets shared on the web and #socialmedia can affect what happens next—specifically, whether it contributes to more deaths or prevents them.

#James Donaldson notes:
Welcome to the “next chapter” of my life… being a voice and an advocate for #mentalhealthawarenessandsuicideprevention, especially pertaining to our younger generation of students and student-athletes.
Getting men to speak up and reach out for help and assistance is one of my passions. Us men need to not suffer in silence or drown our sorrows in alcohol, hang out at bars and strip joints, or get involved with drug use.
Having gone through a recent bout of #depression and #suicidalthoughts myself, I realize now, that I can make a huge difference in the lives of so many by sharing my story, and by sharing various resources I come across as I work in this space.  #http://bit.ly/JamesMentalHealthArticle

Order your copy of James Donaldson’s latest book,
From The Verge of Suicide to a Life of Purpose and Joy


#Suicide Is a Public Health Issue

Often laden with religious or moral #stigma, #suicide is an uncomfortable topic for many people. “In society, we at one point looked at it as a crime,” Pattani said, referencing her work on the crime beat.

The course sets out by framing #suicide as a public health problem. “That sounds really basic,” Pattani said, “but a lot of people haven’t taken the time to think about #suicide in that way.”

Consider the scope: #Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. for #adults. In 2020 alone, nearly 46,000 people died by #suicide with an estimated 1.2 million attempts. For #teenagers, it’s the second leading cause of death behind unintentional injuries. 2019 data shows 6,488 deaths by #suicide among young people aged 10 to 24. Prior to 2019, most #suicides in the U.S. were among #white, middle-aged #males. Although overall #suicide rates declined slightly after 2018, during the #COVID-19 #pandemic, suicides among #racialminorities increased “significantly.” There’s also evidence that #veterans, people who live in #ruralareas, #sexual and #gender #minorities, and tribal populations are at an increased risk of #suicide.

These are big numbers, but suicide’s impacts aren’t measured in deaths alone. People who lose loved ones to #suicide face their own #mentalhealthimpacts, including #trauma, #grief, or even #stigma and shame. #Suicideattempts also account for significant impacts on individuals including #mental, physical, and #financial costs.

These are the population-level impacts, Pattani said, but the causes can be population-level too. “When you step back and look at what causes #suicide—the risk factors—those are also population-level things like housing, jobs, and the economic status of the country [as well as] #racial discrimination and bias,” she said.

“Looking at both the causes and the impacts, it becomes clear that #suicide is a public health issue and has to be dealt with at the population level, but a lot of people don’t know that because we haven’t had that conversation society-wide.”

How We Talk About #Suicide Matters

The course is designed to help reporters understand how impactful media can be on #suicide trends and the power of responsible reporting to improve public health.

Extensive research shows that news coverage of #suicide is associated with spikes in subsequent #suicide deaths among the public.

1974 study on the influence of suggestion found that “#suicides increase immediately after a #suicide story has been publicized…The more publicity devoted to a #suicide story, the larger the rise in #suicides thereafter…restricted mainly to the area in which the #suicide was published.” A 2018 study found that “repetitive reporting of the same #suicide…[was] positively associated with suicide rates.”

“This is not to say that any coverage of #suicide is bad,” Pattani explained. “In some newsrooms, they don’t write about it or talk about it at all. That’s not what the research and guidelines are saying.”

In fact, not talking or writing about #suicide allows shame and #stigma to creep in. The more #suicide is discussed—thoughtfully and using evidence-based guidelines—the more we as a society become skilled in handling these difficult conversations. Effective reporting can increase the likelihood that people will seek help, which is why both the #WHO and the #CDC have identified responsible reporting as a key tool in preventing #suicide.

“It’s really more about how we frame stories around #suicide, and is it just dramatic and [a] tragedy, and just the idea of this problem existing or we are putting in [actionable] information about hope, or resilience, or treatment?” Pattani said.


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