Tokyo English Life Line suggests that journalists and anyone writing about suicide please read the readily available “Guidelines on Reporting Suicide in the Media” (www.who.int/mental_health/media/en/426.pdf).
While journalists often mean well, they may be unaware that there is documented evidence that uninformed attempts at educating the public have a paradoxical effect of increasing the suicide rate. We believe that the June 26 article “Inside Japan’s ‘Suicide Forest'” is as likely to encourage others thinking of taking their own lives to go ahead and do so, as it is to raise awareness on this troubling issue.
World Health Organization guidelines recommend working closely with health authorities to present accurate facts.
The writer’s statement that “It is also believed that next year will see a further rise in suicides due to the magnitude-9 megaquake and tsunami …” is based on speculation. Such rises in suicide rates are often predicted by the media, yet statistics taken after similar disasters have often not shown a significant rise. On the other hand, the negative effect of the media’s reporting of suicides has been documented.
A recent example is the 20 percent rise in suicides in May, reported by the Cabinet Office, following the widely publicized suicide of celebrity Miyu Uehara.
WHO guidelines suggest that writers do not:
• refer to completed suicides as “successful”;
• publish photographs;
• sensationalize or report on the methods used.
Here is what writers should do, according to WHO:
• highlight alternatives to suicide;
• provide information on help lines and community resources;
• publicize risk factors.
The writer of the June 26 article might spare a thought for those considering taking their own lives. Rather than painting a beautifully tragic picture for others to follow, he might use his literary talents to help tackle the issue.
TELL is an accredited nonprofit organization that has been providing confidential support and Western-style counseling to the international and Japanese community for almost 40 years.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.
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