Wednesday 19 February, 2020

Health Ministry: Suicide is a public health issue

“Consider the power of your words.”

That was the advice given to the media as the Ministry of Health launched its Media Guidelines for Responsible Reporting on Suicide on the occasion of World Suicide Prevention Day 2018.

Trinidad and Tobago is the first Caribbean territory to launch guidelines of this kind.

According to figures provided by the Ministry, this country has the fifth highest rate of suicide in the region per capita and the third highest rate in the English speaking Caribbean.

Speaking at the launch, Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Vishwanath Partapsingh urged reporters to always consider whether they are being ethical or responsible in their reporting on suicide cases.

“Are we being responsible when we communicate about the relatives of the suicide victim? When we show pictures of them crying at the funerals? When we dredge up stories of past love affairs? Of financial status? Is that us being responsible?”

He stressed that not all facts of a suicide, like contributing factors were in the public’s interest as this could encourage suicide contagion or “copycat suicide”.  

Suicide contagion or copycat suicide occurs when one or more suicides are reported in a way that contributes to further suicides.

The Acting Chief Medical Officer said while right may not be profitable, reporters should ensure that the quality of their words encourage those who may need help the most to seek that assistance.

Meanwhile, Advisor of Health Systems and Services at PAHO/WHO Dr Edwin Bolastig noted that irresponsible media reporting on suicide has been found to have some correlation to copycat suicide.

Dr Bolastig said media as a “powerful ally in health” has a responsibility encourage people to seek help if and when needed.

He commended the Ministry on the initiative as he said it was testament to them recognising suicide as a public health issue.

In a review of trends in local media coverage on suicides, Mental Health Planner with the Mental Health Unit, Karline Brathwaite, pointed out some problematic practices that were not in keeping with responsible reporting on suicide.

Reporters were urged to limit the facts on the death by avoiding explicit descriptions of the method used in attempted or completed suicide.

Reports should not include the content or details of a suicide note, she said.

Brathwaite further underscored the importance of considering the loved ones affected by the suicide by protecting the identity of minors and refraining from including video or photographs  

Noting that suicide is preventable to some extent, she stressed the importance of including a message of hope toward the end of all media reports and additional resources for counselling.

A PAHO team is expected to arrive in T&T on Monday to conduct an assessment which will include a review of legislation which criminalises suicide.

The aim of the assessment is to offer recommendations with a view to strengthening existing gaps in treating with suicides.


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