As a follow up to her first guest blog, Jennifer from Mindframe takes a look at why the media must be careful when speculating about possible suicide incidents.
While we know that excluding graphic detail helps minimise risk to vulnerable people the circumstances around their death doesn’t tell us anything about why a person is vulnerable in the first place. This is why speculation is not advised in the guidelines.
Speculation is the act of assuming, or forming a theory without firm evidence. We know suicide is extremely complex and it is incredibly difficult to clearly associate one single factor being the cause of a suicide death.
The cause of suicidal thoughts or feelings of hopelessness, is more often than not, caused by many different factors. Many areas of someone’s life is likely to be acting as a source of stress, so to say that the last impacting factor of someone’s life was the sole causing factor, is inaccurate.
The way suicidal thoughts impact the mind is different for each person. Speculation around the cause of a death, backed up by memorialising, romanticising or glorifying the issues can appear to someone who is experiencing similar life stresses, that suicide is an option.
Another way to look at this concept is to give respect to the complexities of suicidal thoughts. In a well, healthy and non-vulnerable mind, life stressors (as a broad and general term) are able to be readily problem solve by drawing on emotional and mental resources. The more we are negatively impacted by different life stressors, the more our emotional and mental capacity are shared or expended. This can lead to feeling overwhelmed and a sense of hopelessness.
Thoughts of suicide are serious and immensely personal, so to assume one person’s suicide is due to one single factor, is not giving understanding to the person as a whole.
Do the Mindframe guidelines stop the media from reporting the news?
Some older ways of thought would say yes it does, but not the case in today’s media climate. In particular the Australian media. We have some of the safest media reporting in the world due to the Mindframe guidelines.
It is a natural progression of thought to think that giving a creative and curious industry with a bunch of parameters would restrict stories of public interest – but that’s not the case. These guidelines are put in place to support journalists, reporters, editors, producers and all other communications professionals to confidently get their stories out, whilst minimising harm to their audiences.
In my time at Mindframe, I have had countless conversations with people in the media about their hesitations and ‘gut feelings’ in the development of a story. Creative and curious people, in my opinion, have brilliant intuition. That intuition is what helps identify a great story and also highlight hesitations.
A large part of Mindframe’s work is to build capacity by way of training and education of the strong evidence base that informs these guidelines. In practice, the guidelines help alleviate fears often held by media around saying the wrong thing, which could cause harm.
What happens if a media outlet breaks the rules?
The Mindframe guidelines are not mandatory or legislated, they are supportive guidelines and not rules. They are evidence-based and evaluated with the aim to minimise harm to readers and support use within the media. However if media is found to be publishing content explicitly against the guidelines, they are leaving themselves open for complaints or worse, they may put their audience at risk.
Complaints are managed via three channels: Direct report to SANE StigmaWatch, Mindframe support via follow-up training, or action can be taken by governing media bodies (such as the Australian Press Council, Commercial Radio Australia, Australian Communications Media Authority etc.)
Once checks against the guidelines are performed by SANE StigmaWatch, request for amendments may be put forward directly to the media outlet and continued follow-up support provided by the Mindframe team. If recommended amendments are not made and the article is considered to be a risk to public safety, the complaint may be escalated to the governing media body for action against standards and codes of practice.
What can I do if I see a media report that goes against the guidelines?
For media news reports and articles, the best approach is to directly report the piece of media to SANE StigmaWatch for urgent follow-up. This reporting process will require information such as; where you saw the media coverage, name of journalist, headline, date/time etc. allowing for accurate follow-up.
When reporting directly to Sane StigmaWatch, you will receive a follow-up email of actions taken from the team.
It you find illegal content such as the discussion of methods of self-harm online, you can report it directly to the eSafety.
For all other forms of media and entertainment media (books, theatre etc.), contact Mindframe and report problematic content for follow-up.