I’ve devoted my career to working with teen girls. Yet I’ve chosen not to publicly comment on the tragic passing of teen girl Dolly Everett. Given my passion for supporting young women, why have I maintained a respectful, cautious, silence?
Because as I also work in media as an Opinion writer, I am familiar with the guidelines for reporting suicide put forward by Mindframe, the national media initiative encouraging responsible representation of mental illness and suicide in Australia. And these are very clear – if we want to help prevent more deaths, we must avoid sensationalising and memorialising Dolly Everett. And we must also avoid simplifying the cause to one thing – such as bullying.
It’s not enough just for the media to be responsible though ( and frankly, some of the reporting I have seen over the past few days has been anything but responsible).
Nowadays we are all able to broadcast our own views widely via social media and although I am sure people are well intentioned, the fact is so much of the buzz online has been far more harmful than helpful. Mindframe Program Manager Marc Bryant said that in particular the promotion of public memorial videos such as those currently circulating should be avoided, “Promotion of memorials, including online memorials, may inadvertently reinforce suicide as a desired outcome for those who are experiencing similar life circumstances or who have suicidal thoughts,” he said.
Why is it so important to put the needs of other at-risk teens before our own desire to vent and and finger-point?
Teen suicide in particular can have what is known as a contagion effect, according to headspace. If other vulnerable young people see posts that excessively elevate the deceased, or that are sensationalist or simplistic, they may believe they will be loved more, and finally understood, if they also take their own lives. They may identify with the deceased ( “I’ve been badly bullied. So was she. Maybe that’s my only way out too…” ).
Clinical psychologist Andrew Fuller, who specialises in working with young people explains: “We all need to put the safety and needs of other young people who are vulnerable first. Just because most people can talk about suicide and not feel a desire to copy the act, that is not true of all people.”
The reality too is that the underlying reasons for why someone may have taken their own life are complex ( regardless of what a letter left behind may say, or what families might initially suspect).
Those closest to the deceased deserve to be held, and to grieve however they feel they need to – the rest of us must start to be more mindful.
We can absolutely talk about bullying – but the context matters.
We can absolutely address the issue of youth suicide – but let’s not risk harm to other young people when engaged in this dialogue.
When I posted a call for restraint in how we discuss the tragic passing of Dolly Everett on my Facebook wall over the weekend, I have had thanks and endorsements for my message from mental health professionals and GP’s. I have had leaders at both headspace (the Australian youth mental health initiative) and Mindframe express gratitude for my reinforcement of protective guidelines.
But much more significantly, I have had distraught parents of suicidal teens message me to say they are terrified at the moment. All the sensationalist and simplistic social media posts and media reports have proved highly triggering for their teens. Families are on high-alert.
And I have had members of the community in which Dolly lived message me to offer their thanks, and to encourage me to continue asking for a considered response. Heightened emotions (which are being flamed by much of the online discussion) have lead to some adults verbally attacking any teen in the area they feel may be a bully. How must the kids being targeted (and they are kids) feel?
There is actually something even worse than the horror of losing this young woman.
Losing yet another child.
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