Stopping the pain; that seems to be the goal when teens commit suicide. I once heard it described as a permanent solution to a temporary problem, but far too many teens do not see it that way. Young people face a barrage of challenges from their own raging hormones to peer pressure and for some, the unrelenting reality of teasing and bullying.
Media across the country covered the recent suicide of Ottawa teen, Jamie Hubley. Hubley was no stranger to bullying. By all accounts, he faced taunts about his sexuality on a daily basis. But bullying was only one contributor to the teen’s decision to end his own life. He had also been dealing with a debilitating depression.
Societal issues of suicide and mental illness, of bigotry and homophobia are complex issues, not easily dealt with in a single news story. Studies have shown that media coverage of suicide can lead to a contagion effect, which makes covering such stories problematic for journalists.
Kelly Egan of the Ottawa Citizen writes: “The Canadian Psychiatric Association has a set of guidelines on how the media should report on the subject of suicide. This week, the media violated most of them.”
Egan makes a good case for responsible journalism and the need for journalists not to romanticize suicide.
So how should journalists approach the thorny issues involved in covering this story? The articles I have read reveal a high incidence of suicide among lesbians, gays and bi-sexual people, particularly among teens.
Melissa Carroll, a journalist with the Globe and Mail pointed out that the media have “avoided the relationship between youth suicide and queer sexuality”.
Reuters health journalist, Genevra Pittman, reported on a paediatric study which claims that the incidence of suicide for homosexual, bisexual, and lesbian teens are five times higher than the rest of the teen population.
Journalists have a responsibility to inform and reflect public issues; to help facilitate discussion. Andre Picard, the Globe and Mail, does just this as he examines these issues. His article shines light on the topics and shares concrete evidence and advice.
Mental health issues, homophobia, and bullying are all important topics for discussion. There are no easy answers but reading these reports have made it clear that these important issues must be reported on with due care and sensitivity.