The Education ministry is concerned with the rising number of suicides among university students.
A report covering the past three years, released by the ministry, says that public universities record at least five deaths each month.
There is also anecdotal evidence that suicides among the general population are on the rise as indicated by police annual crime reports and frequent newspaper stories about suicide or suicide attempts.
The National Police Service’s Annual Crime Report 2016 — the latest publicly available — recorded 356 cases of suicide in 2016, an increase of 11.25 percent over the 2015 figures.
A 2018 economic survey by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics showed that some 421 suicide cases were reported last year.
The question is why suicide rates are apparently increasing. Experts believe suicide is often the outcome of different causes, including mental illness and depression.
What is of interest to us are the findings by experts that the way the media report suicide stories may contribute to suicide rates.
Way back in June, Tim Tororey wrote to say he was upset by NMG reports on suicides.
“I have read screaming headlines and watched NTV lead with a suicide story — very disheartening journalism,” he said.
“I hope the Nation Media house can lead by adjusting their reportage as suicide is a complex story whose outcome is saddening to all.”
It’s true that research studies worldwide have found the way the media report suicide can inspire copycat suicides.
Mental health experts say suicide reports in the media may trigger imitative or copycat suicidal behaviour. This phenomenon is called suicide contagion.
A paper published on July 30 this year by the Canadian Medical Association Journal says that including lots of details about a death by suicide, or glamorising the incident, may make suicide contagion worse.
The risk of suicide contagion increases when a suicide story explicitly describes the suicide method, uses dramatic headlines, sensationalises, or glamorises the suicide.
The NMG Editorial Policy does not provide specific guidelines on how to report suicides.
But there are basic principles provided by a variety of media guides, including the World Health Organisation’s Preventing Suicide: A Resource for Media Professionals 2017 edition.
The WHO recommends that the media should not use language that sensationalises or normalises suicide, or presents it as a constructive solution to problems.
They should not explicitly describe the method used, provide details about the site or location of the suicide, or use sensational headlines.
Further, the media should not use the word “suicide” in the headline or use media stories about suicide prominently.
Many news organisations now conform to the WHO guidelines. Some have gone further by rarely reporting suicides.
Generally, the Associated Press, for example, does not cover suicides or suicide attempts, “unless the person involved is a well-known figure or the circumstances are particularly unusual or publicly disruptive”.
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