Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Confirmed: Alexander McQueen Died by Suicide. When will Entertainment Reporters Catch on to Recommendations for Safe Reporting on Suicide?

The fashion world suffered a great loss last week. For those of you who also drool over Sandra Bullock's SAG award dress...or Sarah Jessica Parker's ensemble for the London Premiere of 'Sex and the City', you must be familiar with the designs of Alexander McQueen. The British fashion designer died by suicide last Thursday.
As I read multiple accounts of his death via various sources of entertainment news, I am continually struck by the irresponsible reporting of a celebrity suicide. In 2001, Reporting on Suicide: Recommendations for the Media, a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute of Mental Health, Office of the Surgeon General, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, American Association of Suicidology, and Annenberg Public Policy Center was released. Research indicates that the way suicide is reported in the media can contribute to additional suicides and suicide attempts. Conversely, stories about suicide can inform readers and viewers about the likely causes of suicide, its warning signs, trends in suicide rates, and recent treatment advances. The above recommendations have been developed to assist reporters and editors in safe reporting on suicide. In 2005, these recommendations were even summarized to be a quick "At a Glance" reference for reporters.
I'm highlighting what I see as a typical entertainment news story on Alexander's death and how this and stories that first surfaced late last week basically do the opposite of what is recommended for safe reporting.

What NOT to Do:
  • Avoid detailed descriptions of the suicide, including specifics of the method and location. This article provides a description of the location and method of the suicide.
  • Avoid romanticizing someone who has died by suicide. Avoid featuring tributes by friends or relatives. Avoid glamorizing the suicide of a celebrity. Many articles have simply included tributes by fellow celebrities, such as Lady GaGa, Madonna, and Sarah Jessica Parker.
  • Avoid oversimplifying the causes of suicides, murder-suicides, or suicide pacts, and avoid presenting them as inexplicable or unavoidable. Although many articles have highlighted that Alexander was a survivor of his best friend's suicide three years ago (which can be a risk factor for suicide) and that he lost his mother just a week before his own death...we don't know the myriad of risk factors that could a played a role in this tragedy. Suicide is a complex system of risk and protective factors, that cannot be explored in a two paragraph article.
What TO Do:
  • Always include a referral phone number and information about local crisis intervention services. I did not see this in any articles that I read.
  • Emphasize recent treatment advances for depression and other mental illness. Include stories of people whose treatment was life-saving or who overcame despair without attempting suicide. Again- Nada.
  • Interview a mental health professional who is knowledgeable about suicide and the role of treatment or screening for mental disorders as a preventive strategy. Um- Nope.
But not to be discouraged! Many newspapers and news reporting organizations have begun to ask for training on this issue (SPRC is a resource). However, I would argue that the entertainment news organizations are the last to follow. Are national and statewide suicide prevention organizations reaching out to places like E! News? Access Hollywood? People Magazine? I would bet that these news organizations have a much higher readership than many local/national newspapers. Advocates, are you listening? Contact these organizations! There is a desperate need to improve the safety of reporting on celebrity suicide.

Are you feeling desperate, alone or hopeless? Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), a free, 24-hour hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Your call will be routed to the nearest crisis center to you.
  • Call for yourself or someone you care about
  • Free and confidential
  • A network of more than 140 crisis centers nationwide
  • Available 24/7

1 comment:

  1. Really interesting! I am enjoying your blogs...keep it up!