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December 10, 2018

12/6/2018 11:36:00 AM
Graphic depictions of suicide is dangerous

Dear Editor;
September is suicide prevention month. How we talk about suicide matters, and so does how we depict it in media. There are two major reasons why graphic (either in words or images) depictions of suicide are dangerous:
1. They can romanticize/glorify suicide.
2. They can give people struggling with suicidal thoughts a clear plan of action on how to successfully complete their aim.
This is something that is more common than most people realize or notice. Often in books and movies, a way to nicely wrap up a character's arc is to have them die by suicide. Suicide is something that happens in real life and needs to be talked about, certainly, but the way it is used in stories and depicted can be problematic. For example, when the major character dies by suicide in dramatic fashion and it is portrayed as the only possible outcome of the tragic story of this character's life- when it is essentially presented as the "perfect" ending, the "perfect" solution for that character's inescapable pain. The problem is that when you end the story with the suicide, you are not only romanticizing suicide but you are not depicting any of the aftermath of this course of action. Suicide is being glorified without showing the devastating consequences of such an action. This is dangerous because an individual dealing with unbearable pain is seeing a romantic, "perfect" way to escape, devoid of consequences. Note: I am not against the subject of suicide being presented in literature and cinema (we need to talk about it!), but the manner in which it is presented. Suicide destroys more than just the life of the individual that is lost. And there is always another way for the story to end.
Newspapers want to sell you their paper (or get you to click on their articles nowadays) to make money. So when suicide is in the news, there can be a tendency to sensationalize the event. This can often happen by describing the circumstances in great detail. I do think that newspapers should always state that it is suicide, many times it is simply "died unexpectedly". And for people to be aware of how common it is, it needs to be identified. That being said, I think journalists have a responsibility to leave out some of the specifics. It has been shown that after a celebrity dies by suicide, there is a spike in suicides nationwide. So divulging details about how the individual died, especially in a sensationalized fashion, can give people in a vulnerable place too much information. After the deaths of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade, most of the news articles I read about them contained the suicide hotline phone number at the end of the article. This is the first time I had ever seen this, and I think it is definitely a step in the right direction.
I could write an essay on why I find the Netflix show "13 reasons why" problematic, but for the sake of this letter I will try to stay on topic. This is an example of both glorifying suicide - her death is portrayed as the "perfect" payback for what the people who treated her horribly did to her - but also giving a clear plan of action for people at a vulnerable age. This is a show about kids in high school, and a large portion of the audience is people around that age. It is certainly a difficult time in one's life, and people are horrible to each other. People watching can instantly relate, and in this context a graphic depiction of suicide becomes more of a road map for others to follow. And even worse, it is for entertainment purposes. You can talk about suicide, and even include suicide in movies/tv/books, without closely watching an individual take their own life on-screen. When I was in high school, I struggled with thoughts of suicide but I didn't have a concrete idea of how I would go about it. That is something that held me back at important times.
How we portray suicide in literature and on-screen needs to be carefully considered. I believe there are ways to bring attention to this issue, and even start tough conversations, without promoting ideas that could lead individuals to take actions they might not have taken otherwise. Every life matters; I matter, you matter. We are worth seeing how our lives will play out. You can still have art without giving anyone the false idea that death by suicide is romantic and will make their life memorable. It is by going on living that we make our lives memorable.
Hannah Puralewski

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