The Papageno Effect


WHILE it is well known that the manner in which the media reports suicide can lead to copycatting or the Werther Effect, thereby resulting in even more suicides, it has also been determined that media reporting can lead to the ‘Papageno Effect’ – the protective effect that can result in people been better able to cope with challenges and stress and thus not resorting to suicide.

In 2010, Niederkrotenthaler et al concluded that prevention of suicidal behaviour by media reports is possible if media publishes articles on individuals who adopted coping strategies, other than suicidal behaviour in adverse circumstances and if media also provides information about where to seek help and advice. The study found that the most important content that reduced suicide was focusing on suicidal thoughts rather than suicidal actions. This is because reporting suicidal thoughts, as opposed to actions, could help the individual engage with the concept of going on living.

The Caribbean Voice is aware that some sections of the media have undergone training in reporting on suicide, but the needed changes are often not evident in most coverage of suicide. To prevent the Werther Effect and foster the Papanego Effect, such coverage should exclude information on suicide methods, avoid implying that suicide is “caused” by any single factor or event (such as bullying), and keep the word “suicide” out of headlines.

As well media should avoid: details of the suicide method, photo(s) of the deceased, admiration of the deceased, the idea that suicide is unexplainable, repetitive or excessive coverage, front page coverage, exciting reporting, romanticised and/or simplistic reasons for the suicide or approval of the suicide. Also media should not propagate myths and misinformation about suicide, such as, for example, that suicide is a selfish act. And media should refrain from using the term ‘committed suicide’; use instead ‘died by suicide’ or ‘a suicide victim’.

On the other hand, media reports should include: alternatives to suicide (such as counselling and other treatment), resource information for those with suicidal ideation (especially what is available at the local or regional level as easy and quick accessibility is important), examples of positive outcomes of suicidal crises (such as calling a suicide hotline, applying prevention strategies, prevention work done by NGOs), warning signs of suicidal behaviour, how to approach a suicidal person especially use of emphatic communication and strategies to build self-esteem and provide coping skills.

One piece of misinformation that continues to be propagated by the media is the 2012 rate of 44.2. TCV has pointed out many times that according to former Health Minister, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy, the World Health Organisation (WHO) admitted that that figure included the globally unreported 25 per cent, which is generally never factored into WHO statistical compilation. TCV recalculated the 2012 figure and found that it fitted into the pattern of suicide rates for Guyana pre and post 2012 as per this chart below.

TCV also contacted WHO headquarters in Switzerland, requesting confirmation of their explanation to Dr. Ramsammy. Geneva referred us to Washington, which referred us to a lady in Guyana who referred us to PAHO/WHO’s Dr William Adu-Krow. The lady indicated that we must set up an appointment with Dr. Adu-Krow, at which point we ceased to put up with this royal run around, especially since Dr. Adu-Krow was quoted a number of times in certain sections of the media as stating that the 2015 rate is 20.6 whereas the actual rate is 30.8.

TCV did indicate to the WHO that a failure to respond to our inquiry would be taken as verification of Dr. Ramsammy’s claim and of the figure we arrived at. However, we believe that the Guyana media has a responsibility to clarify this situation. After all, a 2012 rate of 44.2, which is almost 20 points higher than the 2009 rate, presents an anomaly but so does a decline of almost 14 points from 2012 to 2015.

Neither is there any logical or evidentiary explanation for this, nor does it make any sense in the context of suicide prevention in Guyana. Besides, the 44.2 rate made Guyana globally infamous as a nation of suicides, a reputation that was/is unwarranted and unjust and for which WHO has offered no justifiable reasons.

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About caribvoice

Free lance journalist, educator and community activist. Guyana born New York based.
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