Suicide reporting in the media

Channel News Asia – Suicide not usually result of single source of stress, says IMH doctor – discussion on /r/singapore

I want to address /u/skipshentaiscene ‘s comment, which I think is a useful jumping-off point for a good conversation about the utility of news media:

I read the article and didn’t find anything flagrantly wrong with what he said tbh?

27 kids killed themselves in 2015. That’s more than 1 coffin every fortnight. This is out of a total of 409, which is more than one every day. Now, that’s 6.6% of suicides being from ages 10 to 20. (For context, 10-20yo’s make up 11.4% of the resident population.)

The questions on everyone’s minds are: Why are these kids killing themselves? What should we do about it?

According to the article’s representation of its quoted expert,

  • recognize that suicide tends to occur because of several sources of stress (opening)
  • don’t be dismissive (good advice!)
  • acknowledge and validate their children’s problems (good advice!)
  • “reiterate that while we seek to understand suicide, it remains a complex human behaviour that cannot fully be attributed to a single cause.” (closing)

Most people, when consuming any sort of media, will remember the opening and closing bits most strongly. They’ll largely gloss over the good advice in the article (acknowledge and validate your children’s problems), and their takeaway will be “suicide is multi-faceted and we cannot blame a single factor”. This is unfortunate.

Consider the context in which the news article is arising – a boy recently killed himself because of his grades, and people will want to know what the implications are for our cultural and social attitudes towards education. This was not addressed in the article – could be because the journalist is short on time, or maybe the editor wants to play it safe (to ‘avoid anything flagrantly wrong’).


The article avoids saying anything wrong, but it also avoids tackling people’s concerns and suspicions head on. This dilutes media quality. We know from experience that school is stressful. We know from experience that it gets COMPOUNDED by family and peer pressure (they aren’t separate variables). The article doesn’t adequately address this.

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