The detailed portrayal of suicide methods on TV dramas could be in danger of encouraging copycats, say MPs.
In a report on the government’s suicide prevention strategy, the House of Commons health select committee raises concerns that “unnecessary detail” in the dramatisation of suicides can “influence imitative behaviour”.
“This is of particular concern where the method depicted is relatively uncommon and where scenes show suicide as being quick, easy and painless,” the report says.
A spokesperson for the suicide helpline charity, the Samaritans, told RadioTimes.com that viewers do get in touch when they have been affected by a television plotline, which is why promoting sources of support is so important.
Ofcom’s broadcasting code currently states that methods should not be included in TV dramas except where they are justified editorially and by the context.
However, MPs say the wording is too weak, and recommend that the code “should be strengthened to ensure that detailed description or portrayal of suicide methods, including particular locations where suicide could be easily imitated, are not permissible”.
The editors’ code currently dictates that “excessive detail” should be avoided when reporting suicides. The MPs say this should be replaced with the term “unnecessary detail”.
In evidence given to the select committee by the Samaritans chief executive Ruth Sutherland, specific reference was made to a graphic suicide scene in The Fall. Ofcom investigated the drama last year following complaints over the scene where Jamie Dornan’s character suffocates himself to death. The drama was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing.
While the Samaritans did make a formal complaint about this scene, most of their work with television is of a preventative and advisory nature. For example, the charity worked with EastEnders on its Peggy Mitchell and Lee Carter suicide plot lines. "Coverage of suicide, in drama and news, carries an element of risk, therefore it’s important that guidance is sought. Samaritans has been working with the media for over two decades providing expert advice on this," wrote Samaritans media advisor Lorna Fraser in a blog post.
Speaking at the select committee, Sophie Corlett, director of external relations at mental health charity Mind, said: “We put them [soap operas] in touch with somebody who has experience of the difficulty, who has attempted suicide, to help them to make sure that the way it is portrayed is not overly sensationalist, and to make sure they put out trigger warnings and information at the end of the programme.”
In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. Hotlines in other countries can be found here.