Category Archives: Miscellaneous

On Reporting Suicide – and why media guidelines matter

Whilst some areas of the media may choose to ignore the advice of charities when reporting suicide, evidence suggests using media guidelines can save lives.

© Copyright David Hawgood and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
© Copyright David Hawgood and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Over the years there have been many studies into how irresponsible reporting can have an impact on suicide rates, so much so that most news organizations are now in agreement that there is a clear link between the two.

But whilst the majority has acknowledged this there are some within the industry, and the expanded blogosphere, who have failed in the past to heed the advice of mental health charities when reporting incidents of suicide.

Dating as far back as the release of Goethe’s ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’, in 1774, individuals have always been suspicious of a correlation between representations of suicide in the media and cultural trends, i.e. copycat behaviour. In this particular example, following the book’s release, individuals strived to emulate the central character’s suicide, leading to a spike in similar activity. This became known as “The Werther Effect” and can be observed elsewhere in the media, most prominently in the reporting of suicide.

One example of this is a report of an inquest into self-poisoning in 1995. In this case, the reporting of the incident by several publications was believed by many to have influenced an increase in the number of intentional antifreeze poisonings reported to the British National Poisons Information Service. The reporting of this particular incident is believed to have been partially to blame for the increase because it highlighted the method of suicide in extensive detail.

The above is not an isolated case however; there are several other instances that support this argument. Another example that is believed to have influenced incidents of copycat behaviour is an article that was published in Hong Kong that gave details of a person’s suicide by burning charcoal in a confined space. Following this article there was a dramatic increase in the number of individuals using this method, the figure having risen from 0% to 10% over three years, with many blaming the media for how they reported this incident.

As mentioned before there are many who have noticed this correlation and are actively working to prevent such cases. Samaritans Chief Executive Catherine Johnstone is one of these. In 2010 she issued a strong warning to the press about the implications of reporting suicide, offering advice also to help journalists prevent incidents of copycat behaviour; most of which can now be viewed online on the Samaritans’ website.

Amongst this advice they argue that journalists should abstain from using ‘explicit or technical details’, whilst also avoiding brushing over the realities of suicide. Other advice also suggests that journalists should link the reader to relevant support and information to help them cope with the story. This is all in order so that they can help prevent any further cases from occurring in the future as a direct result of reporting the incident.

Evidence to suggest this approach works can be seen displayed on several different occasions. One high profile example of this was in 1994, following Kurt Cobain’s suicide. In many of the reports following the suicide of Kurt Cobain journalists purposely differentiated between his achievements in life and his untimely death, exploring the realities of suicide. In addition, they also discussed risk factors, and offered support to those experiencing suicidal feelings.

Many have argued that these measures were key in explaining why suicide rates did not increase in his hometown of Seattle following his death, even in spite of his influence and the high profile nature of his death.

Another key example that highlights the positive effect the media can have on reducing copycat behaviour is displayed by studies performed in both Toronto and Vienna, showing the impact of voluntary restrictions placed on the media when reporting railway suicides. The results of these studies showed that by applying certain restrictions to the reporting of railway suicides this led to a decrease in the number of suicides by the same method, the figure falling by an astounding 75%.

All of the above suggests that by adopting these measures we can prevent cases of copycat behaviour from occurring, or at least limit their frequency. This, as outlined above, can be achieved by investing more time, effort, and sensitivity into the way we report suicide, and also by offering help to those who may be distressed by the content of the reports.

If you suspect that yourself, or a loved one, is suffering from depression, you can contact Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 (UK) or visit their website here for guidance and support.

By Jack Yarwood

Britain’s Male Suicide Rate Reveals Painful Truth About Masculinity

“Man up!” – this is a phrase that I heard all too often from a friend I’d previously believed I could trust with my innermost concerns. I was made to feel ashamed about my emotions, and to feel inadequate in regards to my so-called “masculinity”.

Fortunately, friends and family managed to successfully convince me to seek help, in spite of these powerful words and their effect on how I viewed my own mental illness. But others aren’t so lucky. This is where several mental health charities have stepped in.

Throughout history men have felt pressured into adopting traditionally masculine characteristics; they are expected by society to be confident, strong, and unemotional, often at the expense of personal expression and, in some cases, their own mental wellbeing. This insistence on adopting bold masculine traits has also created an unnecessary and harmful stumbling block for many men who might benefit from seeking treatment for issues of mental health. This is because, generally speaking, seeking treatment is considered by many of these individuals to be synonymous with defeat.

Although the stigma associated with depression and other mental illnesses is not reserved exclusively for men, it is arguably more prevalent in males than in females. This is in part due to the difference in the expectations placed upon both men and women. Studies have shown in fact that men are less likely to get diagnosed when suffering from depression than women, the expectations placed on men to be in control of their emotions being a contributory factor in causing this divide between the sexes.

Other factors believed to be responsible for this disparity are socio-economic reasons such as unemployment, relationship breakdowns, and the challenges of middle age. These factors are more likely to lead men to suicide than women, according to research by the charity Samaritans.

The above information, though startling enough, becomes incredibly alarming when one observes the difference in the number of men and women who have died from suicide in recent years. In 2012, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 4590 men in the UK took their own life. This is a significantly higher figure than that which was recorded for women in the same year (1391).

It is safe to assume that the difference can once again be attributed in part due to gender, or more specifically the differences between how both men and women react to issues concerning mental health. Whereas women are more likely to be treated for depression men instead are at a higher risk of masking their problems with the abuse of alcohol or drugs as a response to their illness.

This is something that mental health charities have observed, and are now working to change. Charities like C.A.L.M, and Mind are actively working to dispel the myths associated with depression, offering specific information tailored towards both men and their partners. This information includes details on how to cope, as well as how also to spot the signs of depression in loved ones. They are joined in this mission by England’s biggest programme to end mental health stigma and discrimination, Time-To-Change.

C.A.L.M (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) is an organization dedicated solely to this purpose. It aims to get young men talking about their problems, offering a helpline for them to call in order to discuss their issues with others. C.A.L.M also has a website and a free publication supplying advice, and features on other topics relating to men. These topics include divorce, financial stress, and homelessness.

As well as this, Samaritans have launched a campaign entitled “We’re In Your Corner” in partnership with Network Rail. This campaign focuses on reaching men in mid-life, who are especially susceptible to mental health issues.

The aims of these charities are to get people talking about mental illness, to start a discussion; and offer appropriate advice to the individuals who need it most. In doing this they hope to open up more pathways for people to seek treatment.

Hopefully, through their continued support, the myths surrounding depression and mental health can be dispelled, meaning more men will be willing and able to seek the necessary help.

If you suspect that yourself, or a loved one, is suffering from depression, you can contact Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 (UK) or visit their website here for guidance and support.

You can also contact C.A.L.M’s helpline on 0800 585858. Their helpline is open every day from 5pm – midnight.

By Jack Yarwood 

Labour MEP: more women on boards would benefit the economy

Photo: Jack Howson
Photo: Jack Howson

ARLENE McCarthy, Labour MEP for the North West region has stated that the further introduction of women into the boardroom would have a beneficial impact upon the economy.

Speaking to students of the University of Salford at the European Parliament in Brussels, she said: “We’ve already seen from research that if you have a woman on your board, your company is less likely to go bust.”

“It’s good for the economy to have women on boards, and it’s good for growth.”

A study performed by McKinsey & Company found that companies with gender balanced executive committees outperformed their all-male equivalents with a 56% higher operating profit.

Mrs. McCarthy states that this is because women are more “risk averse”. She argues: “They make more sensible decisions on financial areas.”

“We should have had more women on board in the big banks because we wouldn’t have had all the problems that we had in the financial crisis.”

Photo: Jack Howson
Photo: Jack Howson

Last year, the Labour MEP supported a proposal by the European Parliament to introduce a 40 per cent target for women in boardrooms.

Despite this, she is careful to state: “Quotas are not the silver bullet. They won’t solve the issue.” Instead, she proposes that more businesses invest in training women to board level.

She argues: “What we’ve got to do first of all is to put in place a support network. If you don’t have women who are on board level you haven’t got women to put on boards.”

This support network, she believes, should provide the necessary training to female workers, as well as facilities for those with children hoping to get back into work.

She also mentioned another alternative method of promoting businesses to invest in female workers. This was the use of media campaigns.

She noted: “In Finland they have a media campaign showing that where you have women on boards the company does better and does more business, and where you have only men you get more closures and more bankruptcies.”

This campaign has been successful so far in influencing companies to invest in women. Finland has the most women in boardrooms of largest listed companies in the European Union.

By Jack Yarwood

Thorpe Park ignores concerns over its asylum attraction

Colossus

Thorpe Park has defended their Halloween attraction “The Asylum”, despite claims from individuals that it stigmatizes mental health patients.

Amongst those concerned over the potential impact of the attraction are the mental health charities Mind, Time to Change, and Rethink Illness. They argue that Thorpe Park have failed to take into account several factors, including: ‘the history of mental health institutions, and the continuing suffering of patients in substandard facilities worldwide; second, the fact that attractions…don’t just “[draw] on classic horror film content” but shape culture as a whole; and third, the sheer extent of the stigma and discrimination faced by people with mental health problems every day.’

They therefore suggest that Thorpe Park are making light of a very serious topic, disregarding the fact that many mental health patients are still unable to find adequate treatment in asylums all over the world.

In a recent study, carried out by the Mental Health and Justice Researchers group, it was shown that those who suffer from mental illness were more susceptible to become victims of assault than those within the general population. According to this study, 45% of those with severe mental illness were victims of crime over the course of one year. This is contrary to the myth perpetuated by Thorpe Park and “The Asylum”, which casts mental health patients as being the instigators of violence. This study suggests that the opposite is true.

Thorpe Park have stated that they believe “the maze is not intended, nor is it deemed by those who have actually experienced it, to be in any way offensive or to be a realistic portrayal of a mental health or indeed any other institution”. But this seems to ignore both the overwhelming response on social media in condemning the attraction, and Thorpe Park’s own responsibility in shaping popular culture.

Individuals who have commented on this issue online include mental health activists, charities, psychiatrists, and members of the general public.

Charlotte Walker (known also by her Twitter handle @BipolarBlogger) is a mental health activist and expert on mental illness. She argues: ‘any reference to “patients” being dangerous or frightening feeds into a myth that leads to people with mental health problems being shunned and stigmatised.’

In another statement on her blog, she concedes that “it is probably too late to simply pull “The Asylum.” She instead suggests that Thorpe Park should make amends by discontinuing it next year. In addition, she also proposes that Thorpe Park consider donating the proceeds raised from the ride to mental health charities, who are responsible for battling discrimination against those suffering from mental illnesses.

The tabloid newspaper The Sun were recently forced to apologize over a similar misrepresentation of those suffering from mental illness. Their headline “1200 killed by mental health patients” was responsible for reinforcing the same negative stereotype of mental health patients that “The Asylum” seems to support.

Fortunately, after much backlash, The Sun saw the error of their ways. But those responsible at Thorpe Park are still reluctant to admit that they have made a mistake.

The online petition ‘Thorpe Park: Close down the stigmatising Asylum maze’ currently has 5,171 supporters on Change.org. With pressure mounting, it remains to be seen whether Thorpe Park will apologize for the offence they have caused.

Written by Jack Yarwood

Tribute to Comedy icon unveiled in Timperley

Lib Dem Councillor Neil Taylor with the statue of Frank Sidebottom
Lib Dem Councillor Neil Taylor with the statue of Frank Sidebottom

Hundreds turned up to witness the unveiling of a statue to comedy icon Frank Sidebottom, in his hometown of Timperley.

Frank Sidebottom, the creation of musician and comedian Chris Sievey, is perhaps best known for his TV appearances throughout the years. Over the course of his career he has appeared regularly on Granada, Channel 4, and Channel M.

In addition to this, he also had some success in the nineties with his own TV show, which was called Frank Sidebottom’s Fantastic Shed Show.

Neil Taylor, the Lib Dem Councillor for Timperley, who helped raise donations for the statue, explained the origins of the statue: ‘a group of us were deciding in what way we could make a memorial for Chris; so we decided to create a Frank Sidebottom statue in his hometown of Timperley’.

He also stressed the effort of Frank’s fans in fundraising for the statue, stating, ‘one of the really special things is that every penny has been raised by fans, for fans. No money has been taken from the public purse, or from lottery grants.’

At the unveiling there was a tribute to Frank’s music, supplied by a brass band, and plenty of homemade costumes on display. Many adults brought their children to witness the unveiling, demonstrating a true sense of community support in favour of the statue.

Badly Drawn Boy, Damon Gough paying tribute to his friend, Chris Sievey.
Badly Drawn Boy, Damon Gough paying tribute to his friend, Chris Sievey.

Collections were also made during the event for the cancer charity Marie Curie, with many of the visitors donating their money to the cause.

Next year actor Michael Fassbender is set to star in a film based on the character of Frank Sidebottom, which is to be entitled Frank. Irish filmmaker Lenny Abramhamsom will direct.

Written By Jack Yarwood
Twitter: www.twitter.com/JackGYarwood

 

  

A Call For Action: The Mental Health (Discrimination) Bill

On the morning of July 6th 2012, a 42-year-old man scaled the heights of the Arndale car park in Manchester. After 5 hours of police negotiation, he took his own life.

Hundreds of concerned spectators and citizens from all over Manchester and Greater Manchester flocked to the Internet to send their messages of condolence; others, however, took to the message boards inflamed.

Throughout the course of the day, I was one of many who followed this story, reading a variety of different tweets and posts that kept me informed on the initial reaction to the incident. As a person who has had some limited experience with mental health issues in the past, diagnosed with depression at 19 years of age, I could do nothing but recoil at the discrimination and lack of understanding that I saw expressed, via social media.

In the 21st Century, a decade that has seen, in many ways, great advances in attitudes & tolerance to sexuality and disability (in which mental health is included), I was appalled to see such a response so prominent online. The tweets to which I am referring not only appeared to be mocking the man, but had also openly criticized him for his actions, due to his suicide having been carried out in public. One such tweeter, who shall remain anonymous, stated their view plainly, arguing that ‘suicide in public is selfish and unnecessary’; whilst another meanwhile bemoaned the length of time the man took to decide whether to take his life or not; ‘why did he have to ruin every one’s day taking 5 hours to decide to jump #selfish’.

There are many other examples that I can draw on that make remarkably similar statements, showing that some of the public are still uneducated to the effects of mental illness on an individual.

But discrimination against those with mental illness has never been solely reserved for message boards, or even isolated to incidents like the above; it is prevalent within society. An article from 2008, entitled ‘Time to Change’ states, ‘nearly nine out of ten people (87%) with mental health problems have been affected by stigma and discrimination’; whilst 73% have stated that they ceased taking part in an activity for the very same reason. This is something that I can relate to from my own personal experience, as I have often felt reluctant to reveal my diagnosis to anyone outside of my immediate family, for fear of judgement or exclusion. My fear being arguably attributed to the often out-dated ideas people hold towards mental illness. These out-dated ideas are in many ways due to a deficit in our understanding of what constitutes mental illness, how it effects upon the individual suffering from said illness; and also finally, a lack of understanding of how common mental health issues are within society as a whole.

In answering the above, it is perhaps easiest to start with the definition. Mental illness and mental health problems are umbrella terms that cover a broad range of disorders. It covers anything from mood disorders, such as bipolar, depression, or mania, to eating disorders, psychotic disorders, and anxiety, amongst many others. It is also incredibly common, and affects roughly 1 in 4 people within any given year, representing itself in a variety of different ways, subject to the respective illness. It is the frequency of mental illness that perhaps best demonstrates why discrimination, relating to the patients of mental health disorders, should be tackled.  This is because the stigma attached in many ways deters those suffering from the symptoms of mental illness from seeking treatment, something that can be incredibly damaging to the individual in the long run. In fact, my own road to getting diagnosed wasn’t the easiest. I was at first, like many others, deterred by the stigma that accompanied such a label, and also frightened at the prospect of both friends and colleagues finding out. But with the assistance of close family however, I was finally convinced to seek out the guidance of a GP; something that many others in my position have failed to do, primarily due to fear of the discrimination they might face.

A startling statistic, cited by the Mental Health Foundation, states that British men are three times as likely to die by suicide than British women. This is incredibly alarming as it shows the effects of stigma upon the treatment of depressed individuals; men being the sex less likely to receive or even seek out such treatment. Whilst I know if not for the treatment I received my quality of life would have been impaired to a noticeable extent, in other instances this omission can be fatal for the individual. This is not to say treatments are always successful however; though as noted by my particular case, as well as the testimony of many others, it can be. Therefore, individuals suffering from depression ought to be enabled to seek out these treatments without the fear of shame or discrimination; this is so at least one road to recovery is left open for them in their time of need.

One way of reducing this discrimination, which many have attempted, includes petitioning for new legislation. This is especially relevant, as shown by the contemporary efforts of Mind.org in their support for the ‘Mental Health (Discrimination) Bill’. This bill, which has received almost unanimous support so far, hopes to alter several pieces of legislation that are out-dated, or openly contribute to a stigmatized view of mental illness. One of the most shocking pieces of legislation is the ‘Companies (Model Articles) Regulations’, passed in 2008, which states that a person might cease to be a director of a public or private company by reason of their mental health. The bill proposes, in this case therefore, to prohibit employers from being able to exclude those with mental health issues from these senior positions. In addition to this, it also covers two other areas as well, including: fighting for the right of a person with mental illness to perform jury duty; and also for an MP to keep his seat, if he has been previously sectioned for a period of more than six months. This can be considered to be a vital step towards removing preconceived notions about mental illness, such as the belief that sufferers can no longer be trusted to integrate peacefully within society, or that they may also never recover to lead a normal life.

Legislation on its own is not enough however; even if we successfully remove the barriers that stigmatize mental illness, education is the only true way to remove the ignorance that surrounds many of its disorders. This, and only this, can develop an understanding between those who do not suffer from mental health issues and those that do; and should be pursued by means of several open and frank discussions about the many varied illnesses, in schools, as well as in multiple different work environments. This is so that we can avoid insensitive material circulating, such as in the stated case above, where social media displayed the unsympathetic attitudes of those online, towards a man who had taken his own life.

Growing up, I had also been exposed to other examples of discrimination against those with mental illness, even dating back to the time before my diagnosis. In this case it was from a contemporary at school, the individual having openly ridiculed those with depression as being ‘pushovers, who need to get some perspective in their life’. Needless to say, this statement said more about the individual than the group he had sought out so harshly to generalize, highlighting, in particular, his own ignorance when it comes to the emotional affect of mental illness on the patient’s life. This is because it is about as useful as telling someone suffering from a cold to ignore their symptoms as it is to tell a morbidly depressed individual to ignore their thoughts. This is a fact that many still choose to ignore, and also something that must be altered in order to remove the negative attitudes expressed towards the sufferers of mental illness.

If we were to educate individuals, such as the one above, to the alarming effects and commonality of mental health issues, it would make a significant start at reducing the frequency of said attitudes. This is important as the above shows a huge misunderstanding of mental illness, contributing therefore to the stigma associated with mental health issues. With the arrival of the ‘Mental Health (Discrimination) Bill’, perhaps there is finally hope that one day those that suffer from mental illness will not be deterred from treatment, discouraged by out-dated ideas and unjust discrimination. Although an effort to educate is arguably also needed, it is a step in the right direction; something needs to change.