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Psychiatrist wants journalists avoid depicting suicide cases to avoid copycat

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A  Consultant Neuro Psychiatrist, Dr Maymunnah Kadiri, on Monday urged journalists and filmmakers to avoid detailed depiction or reporting the means of suicides  to prevent or minimise copycat suicides.

Kadiri, also a mental health advocate, made the call in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria in Lagos.

She described copycat suicides also known as ‘werther’s effect’ as emulation suicides after a widely publicised suicide.

According to her, a publicised suicide serves as a trigger, in the absence of protective factors, for the next suicide by a susceptible person.

“Humans tend to copy behaviour, whether healthy or destructive. Copycat suicide is an example of one of its most extreme forms.

“Therefore, it is dangerous to report or give detailed depiction of a suicide case because people could possibly learn about ways of committing the act,” she said.

Kadiri said that most suicide cases  reported recently in Nigeria were copycat suicides due to the way previous cases of suicide were reported in the media.

She urged journalists to embrace best practices in reporting suicide cases to would minimise  copycat suicide.

“Within the last 72 hours in Nigeria, we have had alarming news of suicide cases.

“These persons were reported to have taken their lives recently, – a 400-level student of University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), a 38-year-old UNN lecturer, a rape victim and a fresh graduate of Yaba College of Technology (Yabatech).

“Also, we heard about the case of the student that attempted suicide after failing JAMB, a minister at the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Abuja, and the Living Faith Church pastor who dropped a suicide note.

“These are some of the suicide cases that made headlines several times this past week.

“Media reporting of suicide play a pivotal role, hence we need all hands on deck to report these cases responsibly because suicide  is preventable,’’ she said.

Kadiri, however, urged journalists to write about warning signs of suicide and include messages indicating that suicide was not a natural or logical outcome of adversity.

According to her, a message of hope such as ‘recovery is possible’ will make most people who think about suicide to recover.

“Avoid stating the means of death. Yes, we are all curious. Responsible news organisations who feel compelled to include some detail will water it down in the story and avoid putting it in headlines, teasers or captions.

“Use neutral photos of the individual and avoid photos that invoke melancholy. Describe suicide trends accurately, and without alarm. Say ‘suicide is rising’, but not epic, or skyrocketing.

“Include expert’s advice on suicide prevention and more specifically, treatment and intervention work. Also, use neutral headlines such as, ‘Jay Bay dead at 50’,” Kadiri said.

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