| 15.6°C Dublin

Facebook suicide memorials may inspire copycats

Inappropriate Bebo and Facebook tributes to young suicide victims should be stopped and guards of honour by schoolfriends and sports clubs at their funerals should be carefully considered before being given the go-ahead, a leading expert on suicide believes.

And local and national media's treatment of suicide must present the facts as they happen, without glamorising the story or imposing on the grief of those affected, according to Dan Neville, president of the Irish Association of Suicidology, who says inappropriate reporting or depiction on social networking sites can lead to so-called "copycat suicides", also known as suicide contagion.

A new OECD report showed that Ireland had the second highest rate of suicide for persons under the age of 25 years.

So-called "suicide clusters" have occurred in Wexford and Clondalkin in Dublin while in Bridgend in Wales there is alarm about a spate of 20 suicides in the county in the last 17 months.

Mr Neville, who is also a Fine Gael TD, said: "we are most concerned about the phenomenon of suicide contagion where people who are in deep crisis and maybe have some suicide ideation may be encouraged by knowledge of a suicide in an area, or by knowing someone who has committed suicide -- especially where there was a glorification of the person who had taken their own life.

"The Bebo and Facebook tributes that are going on at the moment are not appropriate at all because they are allowing people in crisis to involve themselves in events after the suicide and that can be extremely dangerous."

"I would be extremely concerned about guards of honour by school friends and sports clubs at the funerals of suicide victims -- not because the person involved should not be recognised for what they did, but because it also gives a signal of attention and recognition.

"Someone in crisis looking at these guards of honour and Bebo and Face Book tributes might say to themselves 'look my crisis will be over and I will get this type of attention or send off, or recognition of my life from my peers,'" Mr Neville said.

"What we do not want is a return to the old way suicide was treated where it was stigmatised. I remember when I went to funerals of suicide victims years ago you would be struck by the absolute silence and nobody spoke. Now it is better. It is more open and there is more empathy but we have to be sensitive about the way we handle suicide funerals in relation to other people in crisis.

"The last thing we want is a move back to the private 'we don't want to talk about it' times where people crossed the streets because they did not know how to talk to people bereaved by suicide," he added.

He stressed that a lot of people in crisis are often very psychologically isolated.

"If someone is in deep crisis and then a person who has taken their own life almost becomes a national or even local figure of prominence then that is extremely dangerous in relation to some people in crisis."

Daily Digest Newsletter

Get ahead of the day with the morning headlines at 7.30am and Fionnán Sheahan's exclusive take on the day's news every afternoon, with our free daily newsletter.

This field is required

"Where you have people commiting suicide getting a lot of attention in their community or photographs in the local or national papers and spoken about in terms of their life successes, whether they were good at hurling or football etc, well that does impact on those who are thinking about taking their own life," he added.

Most Watched