The coverage of suicide among media suffers from various drawbacks across the globe. These range from glorifying a suicide to completely dehumanizing the victim. Some reports treat suicide as a joke while others focus too much on the statistics and ignore the human vulnerability and fallibility of the act.
It’s Not Easy
On their behalf, I would say that it is not very easy to cover a suicide the right way. There are so many things to take care of. There are so many stakeholders like the family, the friends and then there is the victim. Its hard to neither glorify it nor keep it a hush-hush issue.
Indeed, a suicide takes us to the edge of the schism between glorification and wilful ignorance. Show too much of it and you run the risk of people modelling their behaviour on other victims. Show too little of it and you choose to ignore a reality that has claimed thousands of lives and continues to do so.
General Suicide Coverage
Suicides in India suffer from another flaw in their coverage. It is the chase for a single cause-effect relationship among the journalists. People are always looking for THE reason for a suicide instead of trying to understand the complex reality of the victim. A farmer’s suicide is attributed to debt burden, a student’s suicide to stress of academics and that of a woman to the phantom of ‘societal pressure’. There is always a search for the one reason that caused the act.
Suicides Are Complex
In reality, suicides are more complex and way more sensitive than that. It is never just one cause/event/individual that leads to it. It is a culmination of many systems of our life that lead to a suicide. These systems can be social like our friends, family, our social surroundings and psychological – our understanding of the world, our perception of reality and our own attitudes and beliefs. There is also the biological component where some families are genetically predisposed to have suicidal tendencies. How then in this wide array of factors influencing a person’s decision making do we single out one factor that led to an act as drastic as suicide?
Major Factors, Not Single Cause
This notion throws up another challenge. If there are so many factors, then do all of them have an equal role? No. It is possible that some event may have a huge effect on the psyche of a person that could push them over the edge but they cannot be considered the only cause of a suicide. We must understand the things that brought them to this precipice as well.
Indian media has a bad history of simplifying complex matters into simplistic notions. I am afraid simplifying suicide into simplistic single cause-effect events breeds a poor understanding of the psyche and the real torments going on inside the victim’s mind. So to journalists covering suicide I beg you. Stop looking for the cause of a suicide. Instead, look for the developmental background, the kind of social environment and the psychological landscape of the victim.
It will only help you and your readers.