A new effort is being made to attack Taiwan’s appalling suicide rate, and to stop the media from sensationalizing suicide for its political goals. Suicide rates here are just under twice those in the US….

Official figures showed that suicide has been one of the top ten causes of death for the last eight years, with 4,282 people–or 18.8 per 100,000 people–killing themselves last year.

The effort is aimed at Taiwan’s media….

Taiwanese media should avoid sensationalism and should be more sympathetic to victims when reporting on suicide incidents, a documentary director said at a press conference called by a Taiwanese media watchdog Sept. 7.

Filmmaker Chung Mong-hong won the best documentary award at this year’s Taipei Film Festival for his film “Doctor,” which tells the story of a Taiwanese doctor working in Iowa and later Miami in the United States, who had to deal with the loss of his own son to suicide and then that of a young patient to cancer.

At the press conference, Chung criticized what he called the “bloodthirsty” coverage of suicide on Taiwan’s television stations, which overlooked the trauma experienced by those surviving the death of a loved one. Citing examples from his film, Chung said he had shown media reports from the Iowan town that allowed the bereaved to speak for themselves.

The Broadcasting Development Fund, a nonprofit media watch organization, called the press conference to release the results of its survey of media reports of suicide cases in Taiwan and to mark World Suicide Prevention Day on Sept. 10, a date designated by the World Health Organization for promotion of global and regional efforts focusing on the worldwide suicide problem.

Last month, the BDF released its analysis of negative coverage of suicides; this time the focus was on the rare cases of positive reporting. Both surveys looked at coverage by major TV channels and newspapers in Taiwan and were commissioned by the Department of Health.

The media frequently uses suicide as a way to attack the government…

Citing positive in-depth reports on one TV channel and discussions regarding increased suicides among young people by two newspapers, BDF CEO Connie Lin said that these few examples stood out. In contrast, she described local TV networks that stigmatized suicides for political purposes as “lacking conscience.”

Lin pointed out that using reports of suicides as a means to criticize the government and politicians further impinged on relatives’ bereavement. She urged local media to undertake a thorough soul-searching in line with suggestions promoted for World Suicide Prevention Day, whose slogan this year was “with understanding, new hope.”

Expressing his anger, Chung argued that people commit suicides for various complex reasons and said that merely being a “credit card slave” was not automatically one of them. Journalists, he said, should deal with suicide cases in a most careful and delicate way.

What are the criteria of a proper suicide report?

Lu Wan-ping of the BDF explained in a telephone interview that the foundation used criteria taken from the WHO publication “Preventing Suicide: a resource for media professionals” to decide whether a suicide report was positive. These included whether a report highlighted alternatives to suicide, provided information on helplines and community resources, worked with health authorities to present facts and publicized risk indicators and warning signs.

Lu said that, while guidelines were available, it was up to individual reporters whether to follow them and to regulate themselves. These guidelines were published by Taiwan Suicide Prevention Center, which was established in December 2005 under the Department of Health to integrate suicide prevention resources and address the rising suicide mortality rate in Taiwan.

Suicide sucks. Let’s hope efforts like this enjoy success.