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What You Should Know Before Sharing Jonghyun's Suicide Note

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Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Elizabeth Cassidy, The Mighty’s news intern, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway. 

Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Kim Jonghyun, lead singer of the popular K-Pop band SHINee, died in an apparent suicide on Monday. On Tuesday, Jonghyun’s friend and fellow musician, Nine, shared his suicide note on Instagram, which has been translated into English by fans.

While Jonghyun told his friend to share the suicide note if he ever “disappeared from the world,” sharing a suicide note is not the best way to raise awareness. In fact, experts warn that sharing these messages can be harmful, especially for those who already experiencing suicidal thoughts.

“Such accounts are often provided for the curiosity of the reader and highlight simplified or sensationalized explanations,” John Ackerman, suicide prevention coordinator for the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Center for Suicide Prevention & Research, told The Mighty. “Thoughts of a person in the midst of a suicidal crisis may be constricted, perseverative and hopeless, and may not represent the full reality of their experience.”

It’s not just Nine who shared the note. Many media outlets have published its contents despite reporting on suicide guidelines, which recommend media outlets refrain from sharing any messages left behind. Sharing these details can lead to suicide contagion, a phenomenon in which the reporting of a suicide leads to copycat suicides.

“Most suicide prevention experts would say that publication of suicide notes increases the possibility that the reader may identify with the deceased and subsequently be at higher risk for suicide, themselves,” Dese’Rae Stage, photographer of Live Through This and a suicide awareness activist, told The Mighty, adding:

It feeds our culture’s insatiable desire for drama and gore. It doesn’t establish suicide as a public health issue or do anything to further public education about suicide. It turns tragedy into a spectacle. There’s also the possibility that readers will scour a note for reasons behind the suicide death and subsequently attribute the death to a single cause.

Suicide is complicated, Stage said, and cannot be attributed to a solitary reason. The person writing the note may not be thinking clearly and may have difficulty seeing other alternatives.

While family and friends don’t have to follow reporting guidelines, it’s still not a good idea to publish suicide notes, especially if family or friends have a far reach like Jonghyun’s friend has.

“[Sharing the note] increases the possibility of imitative suicide and memorializing/romanticizing a suicide death in a way that puts others at risk,” Ackerman told The Mighty. “That person has lost their life to suicide. Postvention best practice asks us to value healing, grieving and the safety of others as the priority. Sharing the note does not serve those ends.”

If you want to honor someone who died by suicide, there are plenty of ways to do it without sharing the details of their death. “Honoring those who lost their lives to suicide should be about the life they lived, rather than how they died,” Stage said.

We can also honor those who have died by suicide by raising mental health and suicide awareness. “Good avenues involve helping the community understand suicide better through walks, awareness initiatives, and other ways that focus on the life and contributions of the individual who died rather than the death,” Ackerman said.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Image via Creative Commons/BUMJIJUMP

Originally published: December 20, 2017
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