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Responsible media coverage of celebrity suicide

StigmaWatch report received: 17 July 2018

Issue: In an episode of an American television series, a graphic re-enactment of actor Robin Williams’ self-harming behaviour and subsequent suicide was depicted. The StigmaWatch reporter described feeling distressed and uncomfortable as a result of viewing the program. As this program had already aired, it was important for StigmaWatch to proactively work with the television network to prevent a similar situation from occurring in the future.

Result: StigmaWatch contacted the television network recommending that certain parts of the program be edited out should they decide repeat the program and air it again. StigmaWatch also requested that appropriate Australian help-seeking information be included at the conclusion of the episode to assist vulnerable viewers.

Why it mattered? When a well-known public figure takes their own life, it is to be expected that the media pick up the story and that there will be a level of public interest in the details.

Celebrity suicides can have a particularly profound impact on some people, particularly if they idolised or looked up to this person. If they have ever suffered suicidal ideation, they may find themselves living these ideations again in the aftermath.

Studies show that the publication of details surrounding suicide method and location can lead to ‘copycat’ suicides. It is therefore important to ensure that explicit details surrounding suicide are withheld, in the interest of protecting vulnerable individuals.

By having the network agree to remove explicit frames from the episode, alongside the inclusion of help-seeking information if the program is aired again, vulnerable individuals who view the program are less likely to find themselves in distress and can easily seek help should they need to.


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