“Be responsible, be sensitive, and be educated,” doctors from the Philippine Psychiatric Association (PPA) told reporters and media personnel at a health forum on Tuesday regarding the proper reporting on suicide cases to different media outlets.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO)’s most recent data, around 804,000 suicide deaths worldwide were recorded in 2012.
Suicide is considered a very sensitive topic, yet a major public health issue worldwide data also showed that men are more prone to “complete a suicide” than women, while women are more prone to attempt the act than men.
According to PPA’s position paper on the topic of suicide, the causes may vary depending on biological, psychological, social, and cultural factors. But generally, as stated by Dr. Evangeline Dela Fuente, “Walang pinipiling tao ang suicide [Suicide doesn’t choose its prey].”
Doctors from PPA advised media practitioners to be sensitive and not sensationalize the reportage of the topic, especially when prominent people are involved, because of the rising number of ‘copycat suicides,’ especially within the youth worldwide.
“Suicide is not just about simplistic cause. It may be caused by depression or other mental illnesses… [The media should] avoid language that sensationalizes, normalizes, or presents it as a solution or as a means of coping to problems,” Dr. Michael Sionzon said.
He added that too much details — location, step-by-step methods, and photos and videos — and “undue repetitions” should also be avoided as much as possible.
“On TV and radio, [suicide stories]should be featured on the second or third break. On print, kung front page man siya, sana ay objective nun ay to be a preventive measure [On print, if the story is placed on the front page, it should have an objective angle for preventive measure],” Sionzon said.
When it comes to celebrity suicides, the doctors advised the crowd to prevent further suicidal intentions and “take caution in reporting when there’s no immediate cause and not glorify suicide.”
The doctors noted the news treatment on the deaths of veteran American actor Robin Williams and young Filipina actress Julia Buencamino, who both passed away in August 2014 and July 2015, respectively. The widely reported death of UP Diliman student Kristel Tejada back in 2013 because of a missed tuition fee payment was also noted.
“When Robin Williams died, the news became more objective and educational on the topic of suicide because he was a happy person, and his death came as a surprise because nobody knew that he was going through something like that,” Sionzon said.
“Mahirap din sabihin kung may suicidal tendencies ang isang tao. What they portray on TV or on social media is mostly positive. Kaya kailangan kilalanin talaga natin ang mga tao para malaman natin ang pinagdadaanan nila [It’s also not easy to tell if a person has suicidal tendencies… We really need to get to know a person fully for us to empathize with what they are going through],” Dela Fuente said.
The Philippine Psychiatric Association is an affiliate specialty organization of the Philippine College of Physicians that aims to promote the advancement of mental health and psychiatric care both globally and in the Philippines.
Overall, the doctors firmly reminded media practitioners, as well as non-media people to “guard ourselves in what we say” about this sensitive topic to respect the grief of the families and friends involved.
“Alalahanin natin na ang totoong victims dito ay hindi yung mga namatay. Ang victims dito ay yung na-left behind nila, [Bear in mind that the real victims in situations such as these are not the ones who committed suicide, but the ones they left behind],” Dela Fuente reminded.