Monday, 24 August 2009

Suicide is a fraught issue in the media. Jeff Kennett representing depression thinktank BeyondBlue has been successful in blocking the screening on Channel Nine's Sixty Minutes program of a story about a 'suicide cluster' that has challenged students, teachers and parents at Geelong's Western Heights College. The TV station came to an agreement with BeyondBlue outside court after an injunction was brought by BeyondBlue to stop the program going to air.

Natalie Rowe, 14, who attended the school briefly and had bipolar disorder, was found dead in February. In March Zac Harvey, 15, killed himself. Three weeks later Harvey's girlfriend, Taylor Janssen, 16, killed herself too. Then in July Chanelle Rae, 14, killed herself. All were students of the school.

But Kennett is on the record asking for more discussion on suicide. Yahoo7 published a story on 21 July, 'Fourth Geelong student commits suicide', which includes this:

Former Victorian premier and beyondblue chairman Jeff Kennett said the school's students and staff were bound to be hurting but that it was important not to sweep the issue under the rug.

"It needs to be talked about openly within the school community and there needs to be a positive response to avoid it happening again," he said.

"I hope they have a very heavy program for helping the students cope with these sad events and to help them develop mechanisms for coping with change.

And frustrated viewers commenting on the website (9 August 2009) almost universally condemned the program's axing. An anonymous commenter said:

Completely agree with you both, it's a huge problem that really needs air time. It's not pretty and is so hard to discuss but it is necessary and I can't believe that a program such as this would back down on this issue.

Another anonymous commenter noted that it was "not because of the topic in general but something about the way the program was being presented was potentially dangerous" that caused the program's shutdown.

But in a website posting, SANE Australia, in a piece (24 July 2009) titled 'Reporting of Western Heights College student death', congratulated the media for its reporting.

There has been extensive national media coverage of the tragic death of Geelong student, Chanelle Rae and the important issue of youth suicide, bullying and community support.

SANE Australia has thanked the media for their reporting of this issue and its contribution to suicide prevention – the majority of coverage has been handled sensitively, accurately and has provided balance and context to what is an extremely complex and emotional subject.

Child psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg hopes that coverage will not focus exclusively on one incident.

Chanelle "was a member of the Geelong cheer squad; they will feel this very closely and personally and should be allowed to express their grief as they see fit," Mr Kennett told The Weekend Australian. "But the day, the Beyondblue Cup, is about destigmatising depression throughout the community as a whole, and particularly through AFL football.

"There is no way the game will be turned into a tribute to any one person."

For Dr Carr-Gregg, an expert in adolescent psychology, it is an essential distinction to maintain.

"This tendency to deify the person who has died scares the hell out of me," he said. "The more we talk about it, the more we do seriously run the risk of it blowing out of proportion."

But if we are to get beyond the headlines there need to be programs such as Sixty Minutes, which provide a longer, magazine format, involved in the discussion. And there is clearly a lot of demand for this type of story, although there are those who want to be let alone to grieve. In an ABC news story publsished on 11 August, "a father with a suicidal child praised BeyondBlue's actions, and criticised some of the recent reporting on the deaths at the Geelong school".

"The frenzy is just causing so much immense pain on individual levels. I ask, is it worth the public interest to report it in the way they're doing it? It's just astounding, absolutely astounding," he said.

So what is needed is not a frenzy that looks at a single case to the exclusion of all the others, but a more in-depth investigation into an issue that will not go away.


NiroZ said...

I think it's because of this

Dean said...

Yes I see your point but that's not what I'm endorsing. I'm not interested in spalshy spreads and instruction manuals.

Suicide isn't going away, regardless of how much media coverage there is. If we want to get to the bottom of the motivation, and maybe try to be more aware of such predisposing issues as cyber bullying, we need to talk about suicide meaningfully and on a broad basis.