Two greatly admired and creative people died by suicide this week: On Tuesday, designer Kate Spade, known for her colourful handbags and clothing, and today, chef, traveller and television personality Anthony Bourdain, who opened our eyes to the great and offbeat tastes and cuisines of the world.
These tragedies offer an opportunity to speak openly about suicide and to show that mental illness and depression can affect anyone at any point in their lives. But, at least so far, these cases represent a missed opportunity for The Globe and Mail. While other publications, such as The Guardian and The New York Times, included links to help lines and websites on depression and suicide in their stories about Kate Spade, The Globe has not. I think it should be routine practice to do this, and it is under active consideration.
The Globe published an Associated Press article on Kate Spade’s suicide that did not meet the guidelines of the Canadian Psychiatric Association and the Mindset Media Guide, which offers suggestions to journalists covering mental-health issues.
Some key points from Mindset
1. Look for links to broader social issues;
2. Respect the privacy and grief of family and other “survivors”;
3. Tell others considering suicide how they can get help;
4. Don’t jump to conclusions. The reasons why people kill themselves are usually complex;
5. Don’t go into details about the method used.
The Mindset guide notes that there was a time “when suicide prevention advocates thought the less said about suicide, the fewer there would be. Fear of contagion reigned, backed by earnest but generally flawed studies. It’s time to toss the taboo, without feeling guilty about it. Suicide experts consulted for this project want us to throw more light on the 9th leading cause of death in Canada, and the second biggest killer of Canadians between the ages of 15 and 19.”
On the Mindset site, Globe health columnist André Picard, who is one of the authors of the guidelines, said that he doesn’t believe in the contagion factor. “What the media tends to do is influence the method of suicide rather than the numbers.”
Repeating the way Ms. Spade died was not helpful. What’s more, the Associated Press article published by The Globe unnecessarily included a private message Ms. Spade reportedly left for her teenage daughter.
On the other hand, an article by Globe health reporter Carly Weeks, who noted that depression and suicide do not discriminate and can affect anyone, was a strong example of how to cover suicides.
The media and this news organization have a responsibility when it comes to such public issues.
If you think there is an imminent risk someone will harm themselves, take them to your local emergency room or call 911. There are also Canadian websites that can direct you to local crisis centres, including suicideprevention.ca/need-help/ and thelifelinecanada.ca.