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Mental Health and the Media By Emma Woolley
Last week, we were approached by GlobalTV to share our perspective on whether or not certain words (suicide, cutting, sleeping pills, dying) in the Arcade Fire song “Creature Comfort” should be censored. The single has inspired discussion around youth mental health and suicide, as it directly challenges the glamourization of suicide, reminding listeners that suicide isn’t “painless” and that those thinking about it are not “nameless.” The song’s inherent message, at least to me, that the urge to be made famous through dying/escaping suffering isn’t one to encourage.
As a mental health clinician, I talk with youth almost every day about suicidal thoughts. Most of the time, these come up in response to pain – overwhelming pain – that they’re not sure how to cope with. Much of my work takes place there, in exploring how to cope, and think of these thoughts as temporary.
When in this place, many people feel alone. They make think: “I’m broken and the only one who feels this way.” Often, to see these feelings reflected in art (songs, paintings, etc.) can help reduce that isolation, and encourage youth to speak honestly about what they’re going through. I believe that by censoring words like “suicide’ we are turning away from the issue. While our desire to protect people who may be vulnerable to such thoughts is well intentioned, we may also have the unintended impact of sending the message that what they’re experiencing is “wrong” or less common than it really is.
With this in mind, there’s some key points we need to remember:
-The first step in any suicide prevention action is to connect with, name, and talk about suicide. Only then can we really explore the pain and consequent disconnection with life that’s happened.
-The vast majority of people who self harm, have thoughts of suicide, or plans to suicide, do not take their lives. Suicidal thoughts are often related to hopelessness, of feeling overwhelmed and not knowing what to do next. It isn’t “wrong” to feel this way, just very difficult and disturbing and in need of addressing.
-Evidence shows that it isn’t mentioning suicide or self harm that increases its completion, it is *how* we discuss them. Generally, following the CASP guidelines for media spells out the kind of depictions we’d be concerned about: https://www.suicideprevention.ca/understanding/for-media/
-Moving beyond censorship debates will be crucial to improving youth mental health. In addition to having a national suicide prevention line, we need to improve access to suicide prevention training (like Safe Talk and ASIST). More broadly, we need ongoing investment into accessible services that help young people cope with and address the challenges in their lives.
If you or someone you know is struggling, please contact:
Gerstein Crisis Line: 416-929-5200
Toronto Distress Line: 416-408-4357
If actively planning to suicide, please call 911 or visit the closest ER.
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