Time for sensitivity in reporting self-harm

Writing news reports about suicide has not been easy since the Mandurah Mail first heard about the tragically high number of local people taking their own lives almost two years ago.

In fact, suicide has been one of the most significant issues in the Peel region.

As someone who cares deeply about this community, it was difficult to speak to those left behind in tragedy’s wake and see them reveal their unimaginable pain and grief in the hope those at risk, and their families, might be saved.

All of the staff at the Mandurah Mail have been touched by the issue, either through their reporting or because they know families who have been affected.

This is why it was disappointing early last week to see two news websites reporting on a young woman who – according to their reports – jumped from Mandurah’s Estuary Bridge.

Luckily, she was not seriously injured.

But the two news websites reporting the incident did not even send journalists to the scene.

One even attached a picture of the wrong bridge to their story along with a blurry photo of police standing around an adjacent foreshore.

Reporters at the Mandurah Mail heard about the incident, but did not pursue it as a story as soon as it was apparent self-harm could have been involved.

Of course, there are sometimes stories involving self-harm that should be reported when it is overwhelmingly in the public interest to do so.

But what did the readers of those two websites gain by seeing this story appear prominently on front pages and social media platforms?

Yes, emergency services did help the person involved, but traffic on the bridge wasn’t even disrupted.

It is difficult to understand what the point of it was.

In case you’re interested, there are guidelines for journalists writing about suicide, prepared by the Australian Government’s Mindframe initiative. In fact, sensitive reporting can help prevent suicide.

But government guidelines have to come in a poor second to common sense and compassion, wouldn’t you think?

For help please call Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800, Lifeline on 131 114, or beyondblue on 1300 22 46 36.