TV soap linked to suicide bids

By Martin Johnston

On two occasions 'Shortland Street' has portrayed overdoses and suicidal behaviour. Photo / Supplied
On two occasions 'Shortland Street' has portrayed overdoses and suicidal behaviour. Photo / Supplied

Researchers have found a link between an overdose on Shortland Street and the method used by young people who tried to take their lives.

The study of 71 people who had intentionally harmed themselves, many in an attempt to end their lives, investigated the influence of all kinds of fictional and news media.

The report says the participants, aged 13 to 25, were most commonly exposed to media material about suicide by television, movies, the internet (excluding social-networking sites), songs and music videos.

"Among TV channels, TV2 was the most frequently recalled [source of the material], and naming this channel was strongly associated with use of overdose/poisoning at most recent episode of self-harm."

An episode of Shortland Street, on TV2, in which a character overdosed was singled out for mention.

"In this study, few media items were recalled in detail by many participants; however, the detail of this episode was relatively commonly recalled.

"Our finding suggests a link between this media portrayal and method used by these young people, which is consistent with overseas evidence ..."

Shortland Street producer Steven Zanoski said that on the two occasions the show had portrayed overdoses and suicidal behaviour, the ingestion was referred to but not seen, and led to a serious, unglamorised result.

"The victim of each story - one of whom died, the other survived - was not lavished with attention. Instead their action was berated as stupid, wasteful and unheroic.

"As a responsibility to the young members of its audience, attempted suicide on Shortland Street has never been presented as a solution or way out."

The study, by Associate Professor Sunny Collings and colleagues from Otago University at Wellington, found relatively few participants were exposed to suicide and self-harm information via social networking websites, text messages and newspapers, compared with television news, documentaries and fiction.

"Principles of safe [TV] portrayal include: not presenting suicide as a solution to a problem; not glorifying or romanticising the suicide; not giving details about the method either in the dialogue or in the visual presentation; showing the consequences for other people and showing how help may be sought."

Participants wanted clearer warnings of disturbing content.

"There was also a strong call for toning down the graphic nature of portrayals of suicide and self-harming in media."

They wanted less glorification of celebrity self-harm and suicide, more on the consequences for families and friends, and more stories of recovery.

WHERE TO GET HELP

* If it's an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111. Or call Youthline 0800 376 633, Lifeline 0800 543 354, Depression Helpline 0800 111 757, What's Up 0800 942 8787 (noon-midnight).
* Suicide Prevention Information New Zealand has more information. Visit: www.spinz.org.nz.
* The Ministry of Health also offers information at www.depression.org.nz.

- NZ Herald

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