Ethical Behaviour in Suicide Prevention Leadership
Posted on 9 October 2021
By Carmen Betterridge, Suicide Risk Assessment Australia
Politics often reflect motivations for money and power. Big voices, 'assertive' positions and sometimes leaders not playing by the rules. In suicide prevention, we see the push for bipartisan support for many initiatives considered essential in advancing the cause. This is brilliant and a reflection of people working for the good of humanity. Despite identified support from all areas of government and increased funding and capacity building across the sector, there are suicide prevention organisations and leaders, that fail to show leadership and commitment to established standards for safe communication about suicide.
Safe images and language when communicating about suicide
We need to be mindful of our audience when talking about suicide. It is not a case of 'one size fits all'. There are contexts in which it is inherently likely that a person will be exposed to images depicting suicide that are graphic, distressing and/or disturbing, yet necessary. These contexts can include investigations, clinical and forensic training and research/ publications about suicide. There are times when it is not only unnecessary but potentially harmful. Research has time and time again demonstrated the importance of safe communication standards in public forums (Niederkrotenthaler et al., 2020; Gunnell & Biddle, 2020; Williams & Witte, 2018). National guidelines have been available for many years now in Australia, supporting safe media reporting and public discussions around suicide. There is also a National Communications Charter.
With announcements of government funding, service expansions and political investment in the prevention of suicide, some leaders have overstepped the boundaries for safe communication. The following are three examples:
The key concerns are
What can you do?
Become familiar with the current standards in communicating safely about suicide, if you aren't already (see everymind and Mindframe Media to better understand what is expected when communicating safely about suicide).
When you hear gross inequality in the standards set by leaders and their behaviour, please, call it out. Write a letter, send an email, talk with another professional about the action you can take. We simply cannot allow those in power to breach the standards defined by research, for their own personal, political or financial gain.
We also encourage all professionals to return to their core values, underpinning their work in suicide prevention, which should be to protect and serve the people we care about.
We all strive to be better at what we do. We can all learn from each other if we listen to each other.
Find out more about Suicide Risk Assessment Australia.