In the case of Robin Williams’s suicide, it is a very wide tragedy because so many people loved his humour and sense of fun, but also a very wide opportunity for the media to talk about this public health issue.

By Sylvia Stead, public editor for The Globe and Mail

Every suicide is a tragedy. It shows how hard life can be for some people, how much they struggle with finding joy and happiness and how unrelenting mental illness can be. And it causes a great deal of pain to many people who loved that person and tried to help.

In the case of Robin Williams’s suicide, it is a very wide tragedy because so many people loved his humour and sense of fun, but also a very wide opportunity for the media to talk about this public health issue.

So, a big part of the media coverage is not just about the loss of Mr. Williams, but about how depression and mental illness are often silent diseases that for years no one ever discussed.


Related content on J-Source:


Those discussions need to be focused on the larger issue of how we as a society can help people with mental illness, in part by talking about it and being more sensitive to that silent killer.

On Tuesday, I sent a note to all Globe and Mail staff reminding them of the guidelines on covering suicide. By far the best guideline for media was introduced this year by the Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma.

The guideline includes a forward by Globe health columnist André Picard and it talks about the stigma of mental illness. “Stigma has no respect for facts. That, if nothing else, makes it our business as journalists to try to set the record straight.”

How we talk about it is important. For example, the focus should be on the tragedy and not the details of the act. In online coverage yesterday, The Globe’s articles said Mr. Williams died by asphyxia due to hanging. In my view, that was as much as should have been said about his death. The how is not important.

The Globe showed restraint because the Marin County sheriff’s office provided excessive details on the suicide in a press conference that was livestreamed on many television stations. Even though it was public information, that did not mean that The Globe should have followed in lockstep with those details.

To continue reading this column, please go theglobeandmail.com where this was originally published.


Related content on J-Source:


 

Tamara Baluja is an award-winning journalist with CBC Vancouver and the 2018 Michener-Deacon fellow for journalism education. She was the associate editor for J-Source from 2013-2014.