Sep 16, 2021 News
Kaieteur News – Suicide is a significant mental health and social inequality issue by which thousands of people in Latin America and Caribbean lose their lives, annually.
In 2014, the World Health Organization cited Guyana as the country with the highest suicide rate in the world.
However since then, Guyana‘s suicide rate has declined significantly due to a number of factors including responsible media reporting which provided helpful insight instead of harmful information to the public on the mental health issue.
Following a consultation exercise at the residence of the British High Commission, Bel Air Gardens, Georgetown, yesterday editors and representatives of several media houses adopted a number of essential guidelines, which would assist with reporting on suicide as a mental health issue.
The representatives of media houses who signed on the guidelines for responsible reporting on suicide were presented with several scenarios for reporting on the sensitive topic. During the discussion, participants were given expert advice and recommendations suitable for reporting on matters of suicides; they were given options for presenting the stories in a more helpful and productive manner.
The guidelines were drafted by the Guyana Press Association with assistance from the British High Commission and experts including Head of the Mental Health Unit, Dr. Util Richmond-Thomas, Vice Chancellor of the University of Guyana, Dr. Paloma Mohamed, and Counselling Psychologist, Raiza Khan. Deputy High Commissioner, Ray Davidson, was instrumental in ensuring that training for the media on mental health and these guidelines were done.
The adoption session saw addresses by Human Services Minister, Dr. Vindhya Persaud, and British High Commissioner, Jane Miller. At the session, several pieces of resource papers were shared among the representatives of the media houses including the Samaritans Media Guidelines for Reporting Suicides.
The guidelines serve as an advisory to the press in their purpose to reinforce industry codes of practice and editorial policies to support journalist and programme makers in producing the highest standards of covering of suicide. They offer practical recommendations and tips for covering the topic in what is a challenging and evolving media environment.
The guidelines are informed by extensive international research into media portrayal of suicide and wide consultation with media professionals, academics and those with lived experience.
The document noted, among other things, that since suicides are preventable with timely, evidence-based interventions, appropriate reporting on suicide can lead to overall better outcomes. The document, which was part of the consultation for the adaptation of the guidelines for covering suicide stories, advocated for responsible media reporting into national suicide prevention strategies for countries.
According to the paper, while sensitive reporting can inform and educate the public about suicide and the sign to look out for, there is strong and consistent research evidence that some forms of news reporting can lead to increases in suicides.
“Media coverage can influence how people behave in a crisis and their beliefs about the options open to them. Research shows that certain types of media depictions, such as explicitly describing a method and sensational and excessive coverage can lead to imitational suicidal behaviour among vulnerable people,” the document outlined.
For example, the Samaritans Media Guidelines pointed out that within five months following media reports of Actor Robin Williams’ death by suicide in the US in 2014, there were 1,841 suicides deaths in the country as compared the same period from the previous year.
In contrast, the document says some forms of reporting can help save lives.
It continued that: “Coverage describing a person or character seeking help and coming through difficult time can serve as a powerful testimony to others that this is possible and can have a protective influence over audiences…”
Further, the document noted that, “Stories can highlight that suicide is preventable and direct vulnerable people to sources of support. We know from international research that when media guideline are followed this, has a positive effect by improving reporting standards.”
Additionally, it was pointed out that suicide is a very complex topic that presents a distinct set of challenges for journalists, who must balance reporting on a sensitive issue and informing the public while considering what influence coverage may have on vulnerable people, including the possibility of imitational behaviour.
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