Please don’t publicise graphic details of suicide cases

The rule of the game for any media bent on reporting suicide is to be aware and beware of what should and what should not be included in...


Published by Malay Mail & New Straits Times, image from Malay Mail.

News reporting of suicide case can help in raising awareness of the public regarding to suicide, but it might cause other vulnerable individuals to commit suicide as well.

This is not saying that the news media should not be reporting suicide cases. In fact, they should report it, but not with every detail that are related to the case.

Numerous media have actually report suicide case with minimum detail which only include the day of incident, location and general information of the case.

But there are also a lot of media report on similar issues with very sensitive or very private information about the victims, especially for children and celebrities.

As mentioned above, news report about suicide case can raise public awareness which is very much needed. Our society is still having low awareness over suicide issue especially child suicide.

Until now, most of the people still believe that this is not a serious issue that is affecting our society even though statistics reported otherwise.

Media report in this sense, help to raise public awareness because people started to learn more and more about it, and in some instances had even help in preventing some suicide cases from happening.

Attitude of some people regarding suicide had changed because they now know how much people are being affected by suicide, and that everybody is susceptible to it.

In most report, the news media will include a hotline that offers help for people who are considering suicide as an option who might change their mind after calling the number and ask for help.

However, is the number of people being helped by these media reports enough to negate the number of those who committed suicide due to full detailed reports of suicide cases?

It was established that publicised suicide has the potential to serve as the stimulus for other susceptible person to commit suicide.

This is an effect called Werther effect, named after the novel The Sorrow of Young Werther by German philosopher, Goethe.

Soon after its publication in year 1774, young men began to mimic the behaviour of the main character in the book, and as the main character committed suicide by shooting himself with a pistol at the end of the book, those young men did so in real life in acts of hopelessness.

The term was first coined by David Philips in 1974 even though the phenomenon was observed much earlier, and he found that suicide cases seems to rise after publicised suicide in 1985.

There are hundreds of studies confirming the Werther effect is a very real one and that it not only predicts a spike of suicide cases after a well-publicised one, but also predicts that majority of those suicide cases will happen in similar ways as the well-publicised case.

Not only that, the people who have similar demographic data with the victim are more likely to commit suicide in a similar way.

Furthermore, if the victim is a public figure like a celebrity, it is more likely to find copycat cases than other victim that is just an ordinary person.

Most of these studies was done back then when the social media is yet to be as popular as nowadays.

In the present time where social media is the mainstream of anything and everything, it is expected to have a much bigger impact on the susceptible population.

One reason given by researchers is that the report of suicide cases normally will be met by sympathetic comment, something that most victims of suicide have never received during their lifetime.

That’s the kind of attention that is much needed for them, and seeing the victims of suicide getting it, they see it as the only way out.

Another reason offered is that when susceptible people read the news, they feel that if others cannot handle it, then they themselves will not be able to handle it too. This makes them feel hopeless.

The rule of the game for any media bent on reporting suicide is to be aware and beware of what should and what should not be included in the report.

In fact, multiple health organisations across the globe, including our Ministry of Health (MOH) have published their own guideline on how the media should approach the suicide reporting.

There are seven rules that the media should consider in reporting suicides:

  • Avoid photograph, sensational coverage and headline, minimise coverage and acknowledge any mental illness;
  • Avoid describing method used to commit suicide;
  • Acknowledge that suicide was caused by multiple factors, not by only one factor;
  • It should not be depicted as a method of coping with any problem;
  • Take into account the impact of suicide on families;
  • Emphasise to mourn the victim; and
  • Describe the consequences of non-fatal attempt.

Although the last rule might have a negative impact, as it shows susceptible people if they failed the attempt, their life will be much difficult, and prompt them into picking a much violent way to end their life.

It seems not many media are following the rules. Some of them follow some suicide cases from the day the victim was found till the victim was buried. This situation is particularly ridiculous on social media reporting, where they report every little detail regarding the victim and the family.

Many feel this extensive follow up is necessary. Actually, it’s not. The report of suicide case should be following the guideline which will be sufficient enough to tell people what is going on.

Suicide is not a thing that should be publicised. The report is needed to raise awareness but it is not needed when it has too much detail about the case, which can serve as the stimulus for any future case.

*If you are lonely, distressed or having negative thoughts, Befrienders offers free and confidential support 24 hours a day. Contact Befrienders KL at 03-7956 8145 or 04-281 5161/1108 in Penang, or 05-547 7933/7955 in Ipoh or email [email protected]

Amir Jalal and Chia Chu Hang are part of the research team at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.

Bahasa Melayu

Diterbitkan oleh EMIR Research.

Laporan berita mengenai kes bunuh diri boleh membantu meningkatkan kesedaran awam tentang gejala bunuh diri, namun ia juga mungkin akan menyebabkan individu lain terpengaruh dan mengikuti langkah yang sama.

Ini tidak bermaksud untuk melarang media daripada melaporkan kes bunuh diri. Malah, mereka harus melaporkannya, tetapi laporan itu tidak perlu terperinci.

Kebanyakan media melaporkan kes bunuh diri dengan butiran minimum, hanya melaporkan hari kejadian, lokasi dan maklumat umum kes tersebut.

Namun, terdapat juga laporan media mengenai isu-isu yang sama dengan maklumat yang sangat sensitif atau terlalu bersifat peribadi tentang butiran mangsa, terutamanya kanak-kanak dan selebriti.

Setakat ini, laporan media telah membolehkan masyarakat mengetahui lebih banyak mengenai hal ini, dan dalam beberapa kejadian ia telah membantu mencegah kes bunuh diri daripada berlaku.

Sikap sesetengah orang mengenai gejala bunuh diri telah berubah kerana mereka kini sedar bagaimana orang lain boleh terkesan dengan gejala ini, dan semua orang boleh mudah terdedah dengannya.

Dalam kebanyakan laporan, media berita akan memaparkan talian hotline yang menawarkan bantuan kepada mereka yang berhasrat membunuh diri, dan mereka mungkin akan berubah fikiran setelah menghubungi nombor tersebut dan meminta bantuan.

Bagaimanapun, adakah bilangan mereka yang dibantu oleh laporan media ini setimpal dengan bilangan mereka yang membunuh diri disebabkan laporan terperinci media mengenai kes bunuh diri?

Ianya telah terbukti bahawa kes bunuh diri yang dihebahkan berpotensi sebagai rangsangan untuk orang yang mudah terpengaruh untuk membunuh diri.

Ini disebut sebagai kesan Werther, sempena novel “The Sorrow of Young Werther” oleh ahli falsafah Jerman, Goethe.

Tidak lama selepas penerbitannya pada 1774, terdapat beberapa lelaki yang masih muda mula meniru tingkah laku watak utama dalam buku itu yang membunuh diri dengan pistol kerana mereka merupakan individu-individu yang menyifatkan diri mereka sebagai sudah tiada harapan dan berputus asa.

Istilah ini dicipta buat pertama kali oleh David Philips pada 1974 walaupun fenomena itu telah berlaku lebih awal, dan beliau mendapati kes bunuh diri telah meningkat selepas kes bunuh diri tersebut dihebahkan pada 1985.

Terdapat ratusan kajian yang mengesahkan bahawa kesan Werther adalah sesuatu yang sangat nyata dan ia bukan sahaja meramalkan kenaikan kes bunuh diri setelah hebahan laporan kes bunuh diri,  malah ia juga meramalkan bahawa majoriti kes bunuh diri akan berlaku dengan cara sama seperti kes yang pernah dihebahkan.

Bukan itu sahaja, mereka yang mempunyai data demografik yang mirip dengan mangsa lebih cenderung untuk bunuh diri dengan cara yang sama.

Tambahan pula, jika mangsa itu merupakan tokoh masyarakat seperti selebriti terkenal, besar kemungkinan kes bunuh diri tersebut akan menjadi ikutan orang biasa.

Kebanyakan kajian ini dilakukan ketika media sosial masih belum begitu popular seperti sekarang ini.

Pada masa kini di mana media sosial menjadi platform arus utama bagi apa sahaja dan semuanya, ia dijangka memberi impak yang lebih besar kepada mereka yang mudah terpengaruh ini.

Satu sebab yang diberikan oleh para penyelidik adalah laporan mengenai kes bunuh diri biasanya akan dihujani dengan komen simpati – sesuatu yang kebanyakan mangsa bunuh diri tidak pernah terima sepanjang hayat mereka.

Keprihatinan seperti itu amat mereka perlukan dan melihat mangsa bunuh diri menerima komen sebegitu merangsang mereka untuk melakukan hal sama sebagai jalan keluar daripada sebarang masalah.

Alasan lain yang diberikan adalah apabila orang yang mudah terpengaruh ini membaca berita, mereka berasa jika orang lain tidak dapat mengatasi masalah, maka mereka sendiri tidak akan mampu mengendalikannya juga. Ini menyebabkan mereka berputus asa.

Maka itu, pihak media yang ingin melaporkan kes bunuh diri mestilah sedar dan berhati-hati mengenai  apa yang sepatutnya dan apa yang tidak sepatutnya disertakan dalam laporan mereka.

Malahan, terdapat banyak organisasi kesihatan di seluruh dunia, termasuk Kementerian Kesihatan Malaysia (KKM) telah menerbitkan garis panduan mengenai bagaimana pihak media harus membuat laporan mengenai kes bunuh diri.

Terdapat tujuh peraturan yang harus dipertimbangkan oleh pihak media dalam melaporkan kes bunuh diri:

  • Elakkan gambar, liputan dan tajuk berita yang sensasi, meminimumkan liputan dan mengakui adanya penyakit mental;
  • Elakkan menerangkan kaedah yang digunakan untuk membunuh diri;
  • Mengakui bunuh diri disebabkan oleh pelbagai faktor, bukan hanya satu faktor;
  • Ia tidak sepatutnya ditonjolkan sebagai kaedah mengatasi sebarang masalah;
  • Mengambil kira kesan bunuh diri terhadap keluarga;
  • Bersimpati terhadap mangsa; dan
  • Huraikan akibat percubaan bunuh diri yang tidak membawa maut.

Nampaknya, tidak banyak media yang mengikuti garis panduan tersebut. Sesetengah mereka menjejak kes bunuh diri dari hari pertama mangsa ditemui sehingga mangsa dikebumikan. Ianya amat tidak masuk akal jika digunakan untuk laporan media sosial, di mana mereka melaporkan setiap butiran maklumat mengenai mangsa dan keluarga.

Bunuh diri bukanlah satu perkara yang patut dihebahkan. Laporan mengenainya diperlukan untuk meningkatkan kesedaran tetapi tidak diperlukan apabila ia mempunyai banyak butiran terperinci yang boleh dijadikan sebagai rangsangan untuk kes di masa hadapan.

Amir Jalal dan Chia Chu Hang merupakan Pasukan Penyelidik di EMIR Research, sebuah organisasi pemikir bebas yang berfokuskan kepada pencernaan saranan-saranan dasar strategik berteraskan penyelidikan yang terperinci, konsisten dan menyeluruh.

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