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Challenges to a more open discussion of suicide

The value and meaning of public discussion of suicide requires broader consideration

Recently, some commentators have called for a more open public discussion of suicide to promote community awareness of this important issue.1 The rationale for this is based on international research that advocates a multilevel approach to suicide prevention, combining mental health care with public awareness campaigns and gatekeeper training for those in close contact with at-risk groups.2 While this is intuitively appealing, the problem is that, as well as being a public health problem, suicide is inscribed with deeply felt moral, religious and cultural meaning that will influence any discussion, and that the potential outcomes of public discussion are poorly understood.

Unfortunately, the debate about the public discussion of suicide has often failed to go beyond consideration of the risks of such a “dangerous” discourse and often conflates public discussion of suicide with media reporting of suicidal events. Indeed, there is very little research that investigates public discussion outside this context.3 Most existing research relates more…