What role does the stage & screen industry play in suicide prevention?

It is undoubtable that film, television and theatre exert a powerful influence when it comes to comes to informing and shaping community attitudes towards mental ill-health and suicide due to their broad reach and appeal.

The depiction and reference of suicide especially in television drama, film, theatre and online streaming internationally is widespread and has increased over time, with depictions of the act of suicide often becoming lengthier, more graphic and sensationalised.

Recent evidence of this abounds in stage and screen productions such as from Netflix’s ‘To the Bone’ and wildly popular ‘13 Reasons Why’ through to Griffin Theatre Company’s ‘The Almighty Sometimes’.

Therefore there is great scope for the Australian stage and screen industry to take the lead in producing positive portrayals that entertain and inform the audience, as well as countering negative portrayals of mental ill-health and suicide.

This is especially important considering an estimated 45 per cent of Australians may have experienced mental illness at some point in their lives, with many indicating they have been impacted by suicide in some way.

Everymind Suicide Prevention Project Lead of Mindframe, Sara Bartlett said it is important that the stage and screen industry consider a range of issues, including the impact productions will have on their audience.

“By empowering screen writers to develop scripts that are well-informed and original, the stage and screen industry can contribute to encouraging help-seeking behaviour and a reduction in the prevalence of stigma,”Ms Bartlett said.

“A theatre performance, movie or television show can be the first time someone encounters a person with a specific mental illness.

“These portrayals matter greatly as an audience member living with a mental illness could be watching a show that portrays someone with the same mental illness.

“When handled well, storylines involving mental illness and suicide provide an opportunity for sensitive, engaging and powerful material.

“Messages of hope and recovery, validation of grief and loss as well as the inclusion of information on where to go for help, can be a practical way of supporting audience members, whether as part of the script or as part of the production.”

Members of the stage and screen industry are encouraged to view the Mindframe guidelines and ask themselves the following questions when considering producing content or body of works that reference suicide or mental ill-health.

Please note this is an excerpt of a recent Mindframe article on ArtsHub, read the full article here:

If you’re writing or producing a show about mental illness or suicide, consider these steps:

Check out Mindframe’s guidelines for Stage and Screen
Contact the Mindframe team at [email protected].nsw.gov.au or phone 02 4924 6900.

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