When portraying suicide in entertainment productions it is important to consider a range of potential issues and the impact on the audience.
Issues to consider when portraying suicide in stage and screen productions
While discussion around suicide has traditionally been considered a taboo, many people are becoming more comfortable presenting and talking about the issue.
Dramatised portrayals of suicide in entertainment media can have an impact on vulnerable audiences, leading to further perpetuation of stigma and a decrease in help-seeking behaviour.
Understanding causes or risk factors for suicide can enhance the portrayal and it is important to note that many people who attempt or die by suicide have underlying risk factors such as a relationship breakdown, mental illness or a physical illness.
It is important for those within the entertainment industry to consider the following questions when portraying suicide:
- Why is suicide being introduced into the production? Is it to resolve a storyline or to explore the issue from a personal perspective?
- Will the depictions of suicide be harmful to vulnerable audiences?
- Will people who have lost someone to suicide or who are vulnerable themselves to suicidal thinking be affected by the story?
- Should the act of suicide and method be portrayed?
- Might the portrayal of suicide be wrongly interpreted as a solution to a problem?
- Could less detail have a better dramatic effect than a graphic depiction?
- Does the music, lighting or setting romanticise or glamorise the suicide?
- How can the production explore the issue with more depth?
- Has the accuracy and authenticity of the portrayal been checked?
- Will the length of the depiction impact on vulnerable viewers or people affected by suicide?
- Has consideration been given to how the depiction will be interpreted by different communities, cultures and age groups (e.g. children)?
- Does the production provide a different perspective on suicide and show new insights around coping with grief and loss?'
Portrayal of suicide in film and drama is widespread and has increased over time.
When a suicide is portrayed, the act is becoming longer, more extensively modeled and are more likely to be romanticised, glorified and condoned.
Showing the impact of suicide on other characters, such as family, friends, colleagues and the whole community, may place the death in a broader context of tragedy and loss and in turn show the tragic waste of life.
Depictions that emphasise the consequences for others and sources of support for vulnerable viewers will encourage people to seek help.
Including phone numbers and contact details for support services at the end of a piece (or as part of the drama) provides immediate support for those who may have been distressed or prompts people to seek help.