The National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH) news reports that over 50 research studies worldwide have found that the type of news coverage on suicides makes a difference in the influence it has on the suicide rates of its viewers who are at risk for it.
The longer and the greater the coverage of a suicide story, the more likely vulnerable individuals may commit suicide themselves. Explicitly describing the suicide method and using dramatic headlines are big no-no’s as well.
However, “careful” reporting on suicides can change public misperceptions and dispel myths, thereby encouraging those at risk to seek help.
What does this mean for us mental health bloggers?
While our audience may not be in the millions like network television stations or hundreds of thousands like those of major newspapers and internet news sites, I think we should still be responsible in how we describe our own struggles with mental illness and our own thoughts on self-harm and suicide.
I have seen bloggers on either end of the spectrum here. On one hand, some are overly cautious and post “trigger warnings” on most everything they write or vlog about. Trigger warnings are little blurbs that say, “Hey, I am getting ready to write or talk about something that could trigger negative symptoms in you, so continue reading/listening at your own risk.”
I like trigger warnings because sometimes I am in a bad space with my own mental illness symptoms to where listening to someone talk about their self-abuse habits or their detailed thoughts of suicide may cause me some sleepless nights at best, and at worst, may tempt me to entertain such ideas myself.
I have also come across bloggers who write about or post vlogs about the details of their childhood abuse, which is a huge negative trigger for me. For those of you who put trigger warnings on this type of stuff, I thank you, because I will skip those parts entirely. Maybe some people want to read about it; maybe it helps others, but for me it triggers panic attacks. In my opinion the details of such events are best dealt with in therapy or within your own private journal.
Now, I am not proposing we don’t mention the fact that the abuse happened at all. If it did, it is important to validate the horrifying affect it had on us. I am merely suggesting that the minute details of the specific acts themselves be kept out of public posts. To me, the negative effects on the reader far outweigh any positive ones.
Another hot topic in the mental health blogosphere is self-harm behaviors. Some bloggers not only name the behavior, which is acceptable in my opinion, but go on to detail why they do it, what it feels like and looks like, and the thrill or release or whatever “positive” thing they are getting out of it. I understand it works for many people (I used to be one of those individuals; I get it!) However, sensationalizing it, as the NIMH states, only encourages others to do it, and that is not what we want.
Based on NIMH’s suggestions, I propose that we bloggers:
- Help reduce the risk of contagion by including posts or links to treatment services, warning signs and suicide hotlines.
- Include stories of hope and recovery; information on how to overcome self-harm behaviors and cope with suicidal thinking.
- Focus on solutions rather than just the problems.
What suggestions would you have for mental health bloggers? Share them in the comment section below.
For a side-bar list of suicide warning signs you can include in your posts visit http://reportingonsuicide.org/warning-signs-of-suicide/
If you or someone you love is suicidal you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), a free, 24/7 service that can provide support, information and local resources. For those outside the U.S., visit http://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html to find suicide hotlines in your country.