Social Media is a digital tool which enables us to share our thoughts, ideas, emotions and opinions to a larger audience. It is a platform which provides facilities to connect and reach to a larger audience. It has both positive and negative implications. As information is becoming easily available on websites and different applications, there is also a rise of fake or wrong information sharing through these platforms. The wrong information and insensitive reporting have many negative implications for the person with suicidal thoughts. According to researchers, the insensitive reporting about suicide can increase suicide-related behaviour in an individual who is dealing with suicidal thoughts.
The concept of ‘copycat suicides’ or ‘suicide contagion’ means when a suicide or suicidal behaviour within your close peer circle such as family or media reporting triggers suicide or suicidal behaviours. Insensitive reporting includes showing pictures of the body, details about the person or suicide note, elaborating on the method of suicide, using inappropriate language, glamorizing suicide, sensationalization by headlines, blaming the persons or other people for this, and passing on the myths about suicide and mental health. The language, pictures, details about the person and method can create a negative impact on the people who are dealing with a difficult phase in their life. Inappropriate reporting and language have an impact on people’s health and wellbeing.
Here are some guidelines by WHO about reporting suicide-
- Avoid saying ‘committed’; instead say died of suicide
- Use people-first language
- Don’t use sensationalist language
- Include helpline numbers in articles
- Don’t give too many details
- Take particular care in reporting celebrity suicides
- Educate the public about suicide myths
- Exercise caution in using images
- Do not discuss methods of suicide
- Focus on life, not death
- De-link suicide and depression or mental illness
So far, we have looked into some negative aspects of social media in terms of insensitive reporting and language used, and how it impacts people. These are certain guidelines about reporting given by WHO. In terms of language, it is very important to be cautious and alert about the terms used while reporting suicide cases. The term “committed suicide” has a negative connotation attached to it which links suicide to criminal behaviour or blaming the person for it. Instead of committed suicide, you can use terms like “died by suicide” or “took their own life.”Instead of using a phrase like “attempted suicide” one can use the phrase “attempt to end their life.” Language can influence and impact people and it is necessary to be careful about using phrases or terms while reporting.
Social media also has certain benefits which can help people to connect and share with each other. In 2013, social media became a platform for support, solidarity and expression for people dealing with mental illness, suicide, addiction and self-injury. The semicolon project was started by Amy Bleuel. She lost her father to suicide and dealt with depression and abuse. The symbol of semicolon which got widespread attention became the symbol of support, hope, solidarity and the will to keep going on through social media. Social media helped that symbol to become the symbol of support and hope for the people in the world. The yellow ribbon became the symbol of suicide prevention in 1994. It carried the message that there are people who care and will help you. It became a symbol of support, help and provided a platform through which people could reach out for help. These two symbols give hope, support, solidarity and help to people dealing with suicidal thoughts. Social media helped these symbols reach a different corner of the world making them global symbols. Social media can also be used as a platform to provide information about helplines, clarifications of myths related to mental health and suicide, and helps to create a society which is aware and more sensitive to the members of the community.
Social media is a platform which helps to reach a larger audience and share information. It has both positive and negative implications. This article explained the impact of insensitive language and inappropriate terms used while reporting suicide and the impact it has on people. It also talked about the positive side of social media in terms of spreading awareness, clarification of myths, helpline numbers, and symbols like a semi-colon or yellow ribbon to make people more aware about it and provide them with resources in order to reach out. The symbols give them strength, hope, support and will to go through this.
“Never lose hope, my dear heart, miracle dwell in the invisible.” – Rumi
Suicide prevention helplines:
- Aasra (Mumbai) 022-27546669
- Sneha (Chennai) 044-24640050,
- Sumaitri (Delhi) 011-23389090
- Cooj (Goa) 0832- 2252525
- Jeevan (Jamshedpur) 065-76453841
- Pratheeksha (Kochi) 048-42448830
- Maithri (Kochi) 0484-2540530
- Roshni (Hyderabad) 040-66202000,
- Lifeline 033-64643267 (Kolkata).
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