We are all part of the solution to the problem of suicide

On the Sunday before last, I had the privilege of speaking at Silent Ripples' Murray Bridge memorial day for people bereaved by suicide.

I was taken aback when Trevor Smith called and asked me to come along.

I have not experienced the suicide of anyone especially close to me, something too few of us in the country can boast; though of course I have been exposed to it in my line of work.

That was the angle Trevor hoped I would explore: the media's approach to reporting on suicide.

Doing so presents not just an emotional challenge, but a practical one too: every word of a story about suicide must be chosen carefully, and there are numerous ethical guidelines and obligations to take into account.

(I encourage you to read my speech in full on The Standard's website – it was too long to fit into this space, but explained things a lot better.)

Reporting on suicide is still more difficult than it needs to be if this heartbreaking issue is to be addressed in our communities, and if the taboos around speaking about mental health are to be thrown away once and for all.

There are several areas in which we in the media, and we as a society, can improve.

For example, a journalist has no way of knowing when a life has been lost to suicide.

SA Police may release a statement if there is some doubt, without second-guessing the coroner; but vague phrases like "the death is not being considered suspicious" do not indicate whether we should treat a story with the extra caution that may be required.

There aren't many stats on suicide.

Three thousand and twenty-seven people died as a result of intentional self-harm in Australia in 2015: a disgusting figure, more than twice as many as died on the roads; but no-one can say how many were in the Murraylands and Mallee.

Two years ago a director of the Australia and New Zealand Mental Health Association called for there to be a suicide toll, comparable to the road toll.

Would it be a good idea to shove that number in vulnerable people's faces every day?

I doubt it.

A good editorial column aims for an authority figure, demanding they lift their game on an important issue.

This column is aimed not just at police or government, but at ourselves and other media, and all parts of our society.

We all need to try and find solutions to these problems, and to contribute to honest, supportive conversations about suicide and mental health issues in newspaper pages, in pubs and over dining tables.

We can all be part of the solution, whether we feel qualified or not.

If you need help, or just to talk to someone, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467, or visit www.beyondblue.org.au or silentripples.net.

Peri Strathearn