On Monday night, as fans around the world began to grieve Robin Williams’s death,
the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — best known, in many
circles, as the people behind the Oscars — sent out what may be the
iconic social media image of Williams’s death.
than 270,000 people have shared the tweet, which means that, per the
analytics site Topsy, as many as 69 million people have seen it.
The problem? It violates well-established public health standards for how we talk about suicide.
“If it doesn’t cross the line, it comes very, very close to it,” said Christine Moutier, chief medical officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “Suicide should never be presented as an option. That’s a formula for potential contagion.”
is referring to a well-documented phenomenon, better-known as “copycat
suicide,” in which media coverage or publicity around one death
encourages other vulnerable people to commit suicide in the same way.
Adolescents are most at risk of suicide contagion; in recent years,
groups like AFSP have also become particularly attentive to the role the
Internet plays in romanticizing notorious or high-profile deaths,
something it has long asked both the news and entertainment industries to avoid.
potential for online reports, photos/videos and stories to go viral
makes it vital that online coverage of suicide follow site or industry
safety recommendations,” one media guide reads.
But in the hours
since @TheAcademy’s tweet went viral, professionals like Moutier have
become concerned that it doesn’t, in fact, follow established safety
recommendations. The starry sky from Disney’s Aladdin, and the written
implication that suicide is somehow a liberating option, presents
suicide in too celebratory a light, Moutier said.
that media is social, however, and anyone can go viral, it’s more
difficult to educate influencers on those issues. (It’s unclear who at
the Academy sent the tweet, and the Academy did not respond to requests
for further comment.) In either case, Moutier has some advice for
organizations and individuals talking about Williams’s death online: Be
sure to acknowledge that suicide has underlying issues — and those
issues can be addressed. The focus, she adds, should be on his
incredible life. It certainly shouldn’t celebrate or glorify how he
“A quarter of the population suffers from mental health
issues that could potentially drive suicidal thoughts,” Moutier said.
“This is a very important issue, from a public health standpoint, and
one we need to bring to light.”
It doesn't matter what the talking points are. When someone gets to the point of considering suicide, it's unlikely that they have the ability to internalize inspirational platitudes. Even if they are spoken by loved ones. Depression, addiction, mental illness, any disease for that matter, doesn't care if you are rich, funny, creative, whatever. Illness is personal and life can be a living hell for some people for reasons only they truly understand. Fighting for your life isn't for everyone.
If someone would be willing to kill themselves over this, chances are something else would trigger it. I do like that most articles I have seen, have posted info in the event that someone is suicidal, and where they should go for help.