Meshel Laurie: Why I Have To Switch Off To Stories On Suicide

The media won't protect our fragile minds, so we must protect ourselves.

It’s not right, it’s not reasonable and, to be honest, I don’t even know if it’s really plausible, but in this modern age of unbridled, uncensored information, we owners of fragile minds must take responsibility for our own mental health.

We are our own last line of defence, and I fear it really is up to us now, as certain parts of the media seemingly abandon codes of conduct around the reportage of suicide.

Between the two big celebrity deaths, it’s been a week now of blanket coverage of suicidal methods and reasoning.

For social media tragics like me, who get their relaxation from the endless scrolling through other people’s thoughts and recommendations, it’s been particularly gruelling.

You can judge the pathetic nature of that all you want, but before you do, let me admit that I know the pursuit of that level of coverage is part of my problem. I need to recognise, take responsibility for and deal with that, and perhaps you or someone you know does too.

Some people can read about Anthony Bourdain, form an opinion about it and move on with their lives, I guess. Some of us can’t.

For some of us, his death becomes part of our story. A story that begins somewhere in childhood, when a feeling we had no words to describe first stalked us, and made us wonder how the other kids couldn’t feel its breath on their own rosy cheeks.

As we get older we find ways to quieten it down. Sometimes we embrace it, sometimes we ignore it, sometimes we throw things at it until it’s barely perceptible for a while, but when it catches up with someone else, it reminds us that, sooner or later, it’s waiting for us.

Maybe that sounds ridiculously dark to you, but that is genuinely how my brain processes this kind of news, which is why I have to withdraw myself from the news. I can’t leave it up to the rest of the world to report this stuff in a way that works for me. This isn’t the '80s. They don’t leave things unsaid anymore.

They don’t worry that children might get scared or relatives of victims might find stuff offensive or fragile minds might snap. That isn’t the world we live in.

It’s all well and good for them to put the Lifeline number at the bottom of the story, but the fact is, the only way I can stop it setting off my own dark instincts is to disengage. I need to stay away from the news, stay off the computer and off social media.

This is the fact about suicide contagion, when we read over and over about the exact time, place, means and method someone has used, it changes other people’s suicidal thoughts from abstract to literal. It puts a specific form of suicide into their minds.

In the five months after Robin Williams’ suicide, there was a 32 percent rise in suicides by the same method in the U.S. -- that simply would not have been possible if the method he’d used hadn’t been so widely publicised.

Robin Williams documentary

It makes a huge difference, but people whose brains don’t already carry the abstract thought around, the seed if you will, just don’t get it, so it’s up to us to protect ourselves.

If your brain has the seed, I implore you to take a break from the news. I know the feeling of kinship that drags us back, the feelings of empathy and even protectiveness, but no good can come of it.

We’ve taken a deep breath and toughed it out before, it’s time to do it again, my friends. There must be a decent book around here somewhere . . .

If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondblue on 1300 224 636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.