Following the news of Robin Williams tragic death, it was interesting to see how people reacted to and responded to the fact that depression had been mentioned. When I looked at the statuses popping up on my news feed I saw the usual “R.I.P” sentiments but also something that humbled me and made me think that things are definitely moving forward. People were posting links to websites that provided help for depression. They added little statements about how you are never alone and that people want to help you. The stigma towards suicide and depression seemed to be slowly dissolving in front of me as the number of statuses increased. But then I saw the media coverage, and all of that progress seemed to disappear in an instant.
The first instance of media coverage that totally appalled me was the coverage by Fox News, where the presenter Shepard Smith used the word “coward” as a reason as to why Robin had committed suicide(1). As soon as I read what had happened, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. A massive media outlet like Fox News using that kind of language about a situation that effects so many people, who are already in a sensitive disposition as it is, is in a way terrifying. This is what happens when a news team wants to be the first to respond to a breaking news story without thinking ahead and try and play on the public’s emotions instead of providing any facts. If a number of facebook statuses from the general public can be posted within hours of breaking news, and contain both tribute to Robin and links to charities and information about suicide and depression, then a news network can do the same. Hopefully his apology was from him being educated instead of public peer pressure.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t just the American media tarnishing the whole story and not being tactful. The English media has been just as bad. Just after the story broke, Mind, a mental health charity, released guidelines for to journalists to follow on how to cover the story tactfully.
“Following the death of Robin Williams we urge journalists to avoid excessive detail about method of suicide and to report responsibly and sensitively. Evidence shows that copycat suicides can occur as a result of extensive media coverage. We strongly advise journalists to avoid explicit details and to avoid sensationalist reporting.”(2)
The media didn’t listen. Countless articles have included descriptions of how he committed suicide and fabrications and reasons as to why he did it. It’s bad enough that they try to find reasoning behind something that is very hard to explain let alone ignore the advice from a charity that specialises in mental health. If you’re going to report the news, use the resources around you and state the facts. That’s how it works. Instead, they seemed to run articles based on old stigma that attacks and hurts so many people effected by mental health around the world. Lets just hope the charity campaigns and statements from people that know what they’re talking about shine through the bullshit and reach the people that need it.
R.I.P Robin Williams.