Saturday, 25 October 2014, 1:20 pm

Breaking the taboo on suicide

Suicide. It’s one of the most taboo of words for the media. We avoid reporting on suicides and do our best to leave the word where most people prefer it, in quiet whispers.
The problem with suicide is that there isn’t enough light shed on the topic and it’s because it’s left in the dark that we continue to see the number of suicides rising.
A petition started by Partners for Mental Health on Care2: The Petition site summed it up in one sentence: “Canada is at a point where youth suicide can no longer be ignored.”
Data from Statistics Canada shows more than 3,500 people commit suicide a year in Canada alone. Studies done by the Canadian Mental Health Association state that suicide accounts for 24 per cent of all deaths among those aged 15 to 24 years. Those numbers are based on the known ones. How many are unknown?
While 3,500-plus people commit suicide, experts, including  Stephanie Langlois and Peter Morrison, say it’s difficult to determine how many unsuccessful attempts occur. The World Health Organization recently estimated there are as many as 20 attempts for every suicide death.
 In recent years the media has latched on to a few suicides made famous by the Internet trolls, that of Canadians Rehtaeh Parsons and Amanda Todd but this kind of coverage isn’t enough to make a difference.
Many say suicide is too sensitive a topic to be discussed openly or to be publicized by the media. While that may be true, we as a society need to face it nonetheless.
One myth recently debunked by Greg Howard for Cyberbully Hotline was that teens who threaten suicide want attention.
“Seventy-five per cent of people who die from suicide let others know they are considering it before taking their lives,” Howard said. That leads us to see that at least 75 per cent of suicides are preventable.
How many people view the world through rose-coloured glasses?
Parents will say their children are happy. Families will say their relatives are happy. It’s these families that wake up to the final letter, penned in a moment of despair when the walls of the world crashed down. These letters are written when we least expect it, and when we find them we are left with unanswered questions, the worst being, “Why didn’t I see the signs?”
The answer is simple. Suicide isn’t reported enough to the general public so we are left thinking, “This will never happen to me,” or “I will never be in that situation.”
As members of the media we need to take a stance on this subject and show the widespread effects of suicide. We need to remove the stigma and show the world that while suicide is a sensitive topic, it needs to be reported and the public needs to be educated.
This idea that suicide “cannot or will not happen to me or someone I know” is by far the most arrogant and ignorant view to take because while suicide is preventable, reaching the point where you feel you want to commit suicide is possible for everyone.
It’s this view of the world that needs to be shattered. We need to break the bubble and people need to see the real world.
How many people know that the youngest person to commit suicide was a six-year-old little girl named Samantha Kuberski? She was found hanging in her room after an argument with her mother.
Most children don’t understand what death is until the age of eight or older when they learn that death is final and you don’t come back. If we have children as young as six committing suicide, we are left to wonder what we are doing that is so wrong.
Education is the biggest prevention for most issues society faces.
There are some who believe that if the media reported suicides, it would be counter-productive. That it could set off a wildfire string of suicides among those closest to the victim.
If the media covered suicide properly, it could do a lot of good. The media are one of the best ways to educate people and shed light on the hard topics. We need to get people talking to show the effects of suicide on family, friends and co-workers.
As long as the stigma exists, people who are at risk will most likely never bring it up because the topic is seen as inappropriate or they fear they will be seen as attention-seeking and shallow.
Friends and families of victims of suicide will never bring it up because the pain is too much to bear or they feel the world just won’t understand what they are going through.
And once again we will come full circle; suicide will continue to be a taboo subject only spoken about in whispers.
People need to learn the signs associated with suicidal thoughts no matter how subtle. We need to be aware that even threats of suicide are serious enough to take notice.
Most of all, society needs to be aware suicide is not limited to those of poverty or broken homes. Victims of suicide are not just minorities or those dealing with depression.
Rich or poor. Heavy or thin. Good life or shattered one. Suicide, like all forms of death, isn’t prejudice. It’s a predator of nurture and environment and it is capable of taking anyone at any time.
It’s because suicide is preventable that we need to talk about it. It needs to be brought into the light and the media needs to report it. Potential victims of suicide need to see the stigma gone so they feel comfortable seeking help. They need to see the devastating backlash it causes when there’s a suicide attempt or, worse, success.
Even though we may not have experienced suicide first hand, there is always the possibility that we will and how many people are prepared to act fast enough to prevent it?
It’s time to talk about it. Not behind the closed doors of therapy sessions in hushed voices, but out in the open. It’s time the media removed the stigma, removed the taboo and broke the sensitivity barrier educating the public.
If we don’t, the number of attempted suicides will continue to rise, the number of successful suicides will rise and one day it will be a wild fire  we can no longer stop.

CHRISTOPHER BREEN

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