MURDER/SUICIDES: Time to review reporting (or not reporting) of tragic incidents in the current context

Published: December 21, 2012

MANPREET GREWAL
VANCOUVER DESI

When it comes to reporting suicides, mental health professionals are worried about the ‘Werther Effect.’ Submitted photo

In the early 1990s, I was still relatively new to Canada when a huge story broke out in Abbotsford about a sting operation carried out by police where a cop dressed up as a prostitute had lured many johns.

The police released the list of johns to the media. Editors of the local papers went back and forth on whether the list of men caught should be named and consequently be shamed in the paper. Men with wives and children, in respectable positions and of different backgrounds had all been caught up in the net. A significant number of these individuals were from the South Asian descent.

The mainstream papers ultimately decided not to print the list but a South Asian publication at the time from Surrey published the names. Those copies exchanged hands very fast in Abbotsford. Even folks who were totally against the papers publishing the list were curious to find out who was on the list.

A few days later, word spread through the community that one of the South Asian men whose name had been published committed suicide. I thought that story would make headlines because of the controversy that the issue had generated but it never even appeared in any of the papers. I talked to one of my reporter friends at the local paper and she said that as a policy they never covered suicide. I couldn’t fathom it. I thought it was a story of extreme significance because it would inform the public debate about the merits or dangers of the johns names being made public.

I learnt better over the years that there is a solid rationale behind not reporting suicides. Mental health professionals fear copycat behaviour amongst those who may be going through a somewhat similar set of emotions. They’re worried about what they call the Werther Effect.

According to Wikipedia, one of the earliest known associations between the media and suicide arose from Goethe’s novel Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (The Sorrows of Young Werther). Goethe’s novel was published in 1774 and not long after young men began to mimic the character Werther by dressing in yellow pants and blue jackets.

A new trend also emerged from the book causing it to be banned in numerous areas. In the novel, Werther commits suicide with a pistol after he fails to get the girl he desires. Many men replicated this trend in an act of hopelessness. Hence the term “Werther Effect,” used to designate copycat suicides.

In cases of celebrities whose suicides have inspired suicide clusters, Marilyn Monroe’s name comes up. Her death (which was deemed as a possible suicide) was followed by an increase of 200 more suicides than average for that month.

Fast forward things to the 21st century where the ban of a book is not going to fix the problem. Although no responsible media outlet would want to point a path of self emulation to anyone, isn’t it time to review the reporting of the situation in the current context?

The first factor informing the discussion is that mainstream media no longer holds the sole control to spread or contain information to the masses. In the age of social media one kid sitting in front of a computer can post information and it can go viral within minutes.

Secondly, suicides are no longer just about someone taking their own life. Individuals are taking a lot of other lives before killing themselves. Whether it is one or two individuals storming a school or a public place or a story of international terrorist attacks, the last few years have been full of stories of mass murder/suicides. That in itself raises fears of copycat crimes but how can those kinds of incidents be swept under the carpet?

Thirdly we are a highly resourced society and we should be using all our information sources and media, including social media, to increase awareness about mental health issues. Perhaps for each murder/suicide story that is covered in the media, there should be less sensationalization of the actual event but more emphasis placed on running expert opinions and articles on identifying, diagnosing and treating mental health issues and preventing copycat crimes. Mental health professionals can be given additional resources to have online programs for suicide watch and crisis intervention. There will be more captive audiences at that time. Perhaps that will make it safer to discuss suicide and prevention in an open format.

Because, despite sound rationale, not reporting may simply not be an option in this day and age.

Manpreet Grewal is a freelance writer based in Abbotsford. She can be emailed at manpreetgrewal@shaw.ca


Tags: , , , , ,





Featured

Nepal earthquake

Over 1000 dead in powerful Nepal earthquake that crumbles history, shakes Everest

BINAJ GURUBACHARYA And MUNEEZA NAQVI THE ASSOCIATED PRESS KATHMANDU, Nepal — A powerful earthquake struck Nepal Saturday, killing at least 1,180 people across a swath…
Continue Reading »

Surrey Six

Forum at Surrey gurdwara to address recent shootings and drugs-related violence

‘The gurdwara feels responsible to pro-actively engage with the public in stopping this senseless violence’ SURREY NOW SURREY — Eileen Mohan, the mother of “Surrey…
Continue Reading »

police-Newton-desi-Vancouver-BC

Surrey NDP MPs Jinny Sims and Jasbir Sandhu call on Tories to help stop shootings

TOM ZYTARUK SURREY NOW SURREY — Surrey’s NDP MPs are calling on the federal Conservative government to do something to help stop a flurry of…
Continue Reading »

LOCAL NEWS

NEPAL EARTHQUAKE

At least 388 Canadians registered in earthquake devastated Nepal: officials

THE CANADIAN PRESS TORONTO — The Foreign Affairs Department says it is closely monitoring the situation in Nepal, where an earthquake has killed nearly 1,200…
Continue Reading »

At least 388 Canadians registered in earthquake devastated Nepal: officials

THE CANADIAN PRESS TORONTO — The Foreign Affairs Department says it is closely monitoring the situation in Nepal, where an earthquake has killed more than…
Continue Reading »

Surrey Six

Forum at Surrey gurdwara to address recent shootings and drugs-related violence

‘The gurdwara feels responsible to pro-actively engage with the public in stopping this senseless violence’ SURREY NOW SURREY — Eileen Mohan, the mother of “Surrey…
Continue Reading »

Don't Miss...

Hollywood-Bollywood

Harold & Kumar actor Kal Penn stars in film being shot in B.C.

MICHAEL D. REID TIMES COLONIST Kal Penn is coming to town to star in The Girl in the Photographs, a horror feature that began shooting…
Continue Reading »

PARENTS-VIOLENCE

Video shows a mom beating school staff after her daughter was stopped from carrying cellphone

  HINDUSTAN TIMES A woman allegedly beat up the director of a school in Jalandhar after her daughter was stopped from carrying a mobile phone…
Continue Reading »

fetish-desi sex-school girl-viral video

Video shows a young girl being brutally beaten with a stick, kicked by her father

VANCOUVER DESI A viral video of a father brutally beating up a young girl will make you shiver with anger and disgust, and want to…
Continue Reading »

gang life prevention

End Gang Life: Problems surrounding gun violence run deeper than skin colour or culture

SGT. LINDSEY HOUGHTON SPECIAL TO VANCOUVER DESI Kids are shooting at each other.  The violence these children are engaged in with each other has now…
Continue Reading »

desi sex-video-lust-bollywood

Video shows how a woman reacted when a pervert kept staring at her breasts

VANCOUVER DESI In a conservative country like India, where women’s rights are suppressed way too often, what do you do when a lecherous man won’t…
Continue Reading »


Bollywood Latest

Desi-sex-boobs-india-porn-bollywood

Indo-Canadian actress Sunny Leone: People write all sort of crazy stories about me

HINDUSTAN TIMES Actor Sunny Leone, recently hit headlines when she was quoted as saying that she doesn’t like being compared to Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. The…
Continue Reading »

Deepika Padukone

Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone not interested in donning producer’s hat

HINDUSTAN TIMES While many of her contemporaries like Anushka Sharma and Ranbir Kapoor have entered the realm of film production, actor Deepika Padukone says that…
Continue Reading »

Kangana Ranaut

Bollywood actress Kangana Ranaut “had to learn triple jump for Tanu Weds Manu Returns”

HINDUSTAN TIMES We have seen actor Kangana Ranaut play a Delhi girl many times. Be it the flamboyant Tanu in Tanu weds Manu (2011) or…
Continue Reading »