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Monday, 12 October 2015

The silence we attach to suicide

When news hit today that Fairfax columnist Sam De Brito had been found dead at his North Bondi home the obvious question was: did he suicide? Because despite the fact that the writer of the story is the SMH's crime reporter, there was no information in the story about how he died. Which is secret code in the media for that silent killer, suicide.

On social media the response was heartfelt and immediate, especially from female journalists. I retweeted four tweets from this breed of online commenter before I had to go and get a haircut at Broadway. One of them pointed also to the last column De Brito wrote, one about co-sleeping with children. Some of them noted that he had a young daughter.

The media have problems with suicide. The traditional view goes that if you openly discuss it you might give someone who might otherwise not do it some unhealthy ideas. Hence the reticence surrounding the act, which has not been illegal for a long time in any Australian jurisdiction. The religious opprobrium attached to it is obviously just an obsolete hangover from another time when people cared what God thought about what they did in private. In Australia today only about eight percent of people go to church on a regular basis. We're over that nonsense. Now we only care what the law thinks of what we do in private. Which is as it should be.

But in the media the strange strictures and their attendant ellipses remain. There are ways to write about suicide that can be healthy and of positive use, of course, and there are guidelines available for the curious journalist faced with one of these stories who might have an inkling to go against the mainstream. It's just a matter of deciding to lift the scab off the wound of silence that still holds in place to this day in this country when it comes to talking about the taking of one's own life, which is something that is not against the law and therefore should not come with any shame attached.

De Brito was an uncommon writer of course. Liable to create long, complex sentences and to attempt to tackle difficult and often obscure subjects, he brought an active intelligence to play in a media environment where such talents are frequently hard to find. As such he should be remembered. And we should remember him. In all his varied shades and shapes. Including the fact that he killed himself.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Police from the Waverly Local Area Command have confirmed he was found by his mother.

Police also said there was nothing to indicate, and no evidence to suggest, the death was a suicide.

The cause of death will be determined by an autopsy.

http://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2015-10-12/sam-de-brito-dies/6846834

Anonymous said...

You want to actually provide some evidence with your assertions or you just expect sheeple to swallow what you sell?
In Australia today only about eight percent of people go to church on a regular basis. We're over that nonsense. Now we only care what the law thinks of what we do in private. Which is as it should be.
Yeah only the law, which is corrupted, full of pedos and others that use it to further their own gains. Perhaps you need to read Heffernan's recent outing of the judiciary!