SPA Knowledge Exchange webinar highlights: communicating about suicide

Posted 1st March 2022 in SPA Knowledge Exchange 2021

The third and final in a series of three Suicide Prevention Australia Knowledge Exchange webinars has explored communication about suicide.

The webinar was moderated by Nieves Murray, CEO at Suicide Prevention Australia, who introduced the first speaker, Dr Elizabeth Paton, Project Lead at Everymind.

Dr Paton presented on Tools for communicating safely and sensitively about suicide and highlighted two key initiatives within Everymind: Mindframe and Life in Mind. The Mindframe program is based on evidence from around the world that has emerged over decades on the significant impact communication around mental health and suicide can have – positive or negative. Evidence-informed guidelines are available to help people who are communicating publicly about suicide do so in a safe and non-stigmatising way.

The primary target for Mindframe is news media and public relations professionals; and with media training and using the SANE Australia StigmaWatch media reporting platform, the Mindframe initiative aims to improve communication and media coverage of suicide to reduce stigma and promote help-seeking.

Dr Paton proceeded to discuss the Life in Mind initiative with a key focus on the National Communications Charter (The Charter). The Charter provides an opportunity for governments, organisations, community groups and individuals to play a role in reducing stigma around mental illness and suicide, while promoting help-seeking behaviour through its guiding principles and messages. Dr Paton noted that signing The Charter isn’t the end of the story and pointed to the action guides, which provide practical examples of activities to action the eight principles.

The second speaker, Associate Professor Jo Robinson, Head of Suicide Prevention Research at Orygen, presented on Using social media for suicide prevention: the #chatsafe project.

Assoc. Prof. Robinson emphasised that we need to better equip young people to talk safely about suicide on social media platforms, linking this need to the increasing rate of suicide among young Australians. In a recent study, taken during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in Victoria, 96.1% of young people reported using social media every day, with almost half using it between three to four hours per day, and some spending up to seven hours a day using various platforms. In communicating about suicide, young people used social media platforms to either share their own experiences, including to seek help, to provide support for their friends, or to memorialise someone who has died by suicide. This can have positive effects, however there are also potential risks for distress and imitative behaviour.

Using the results from this research, Orygen developed the #chatsafe guidelines, which provide practical tips and words to help young people communicate safely about suicide on social media. The guidelines also provide advice, such as pausing and reflecting on who could be reading the content before you share your story about suicide, and including a content trigger warning on any graphic images.

Following testing of the guidelines among young people, Orygen found that they improved young people’s willingness to intervene against suicide, were less likely to share suicide-related content, and were more likely to monitor their posts for harmful content.

The final speaker was Dr Michelle Blanchard from the National Mental Health Commission, who spoke about the Development of the National Stigma and Discrimination Reduction Strategy and the role of communications in stigma reduction.

Dr Blanchard explained that the Commission is currently developing the first comprehensive national strategy to help tackle stigma and discrimination for those experiencing mental health in Australia. To achieve this, the Commission needed to understand that stigma is a complex social process, stigma and discrimination occur in a range of settings, and the ways to address this.

The goals of the project centre on reducing public stigma towards people who experience mental ill-health and their support people by changing attitudes in the community; eliminating structural stigma against those who experience mental ill-health and their support people; and reducing self-stigma.

A set of guiding principles has been developed that are strongly informed by the human rights of people who experience mental health and the carers who support them, as well as respect and support for different cultures, identities and the community.

Dr Blanchard highlighted that other themes had been identified during the development of the guiding principles of which the sector and government will continue to explore and address. The additional themes arising from the project include the need to continue to work with media to educate and guide the Australian public, the need to increase the capacity and capability of workforces to provide non stigmatising and suitable roles for people living with mental illness, and to improve the way people living with mental illness and engaged and included within communities.

The national Strategy will undergo consultation this year and will be delivered by December 2022.

Life in Mind was pleased to partner with Suicide Prevention Australia for the Knowledge Exchange webinar series.

To continue exploring this topic, visit the Life in Mind webpage on communicating about suicide.

If you or someone you know has been impacted by this information or needs help, please phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back on 1300 659 467. If you are in immediate danger, phone emergency services on 000.

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