Saturday 24 February 2018

Patricia Casey: There is no stigma over suicide, but a damaging media frenzy

THE sad death of Shannon Gallagher will inevitably be the subject of wall-to-wall coverage in the media in the coming days. Indeed it is hardly any surprise that the school which her sister Erin attended has asked that the media not intrude. Inevitably it will not respect the school's wishes and will justify this by invoking the "public interest". The headline writers will emblazon the word 'stigma' on the front pages and it will figure prominently in the inevitable debate that will follow.

With wearying predictability, the argument can be foreseen already and it will go as follows: suicide has been stigmatised in Ireland for too long and so as to reduce the frequency with which people die in this manner, we must be more open about it so that people will not be deterred from seeking help when it is needed. Indeed, the fact that relatives are reluctant to speak about the loss of a loved one by suicide is proof that stigma still exists.

However, another argument, seldom heard, is that the media preoccupation with suicide is normalising and even glorifying this behaviour. One of the barriers to suicide in the past was that it indicated some family or personal problem and that to take one's life would cast a shadow over those left behind. This respectful restraint when speaking about a private tragedy is something we lose at our peril. This is my position and that of most psychiatrists I know.

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