author: lena scriver | our contributors
It’s time we stop forgiving ignorance
This article has a content warning for suicide
Aokigahara forest in Japan is popularly referred to as a “suicide forest” for being a well-known site for suicides and suicide attempts. Recently, a YouTube celebrity named Logan Paul visited Aokigahara for an overnight camping trip with friends, and they were unfortunate enough to come across a corpse hanging from a tree. What is even sadder, however, is that Paul filmed the encounter and released the footage as part of a vlog on YouTube. Viewers were able to see the suicide victim through Paul’s lens and with his commentary, including some morbid humor. As one would expect, there was massive backlash online, and Paul both deleted the video and offered written and filmed apologies. He has lost thousands of subscribers already.
What I’d like to talk about here is how this Logan Paul fiasco highlights an important issue with suicide awareness and prevention: broadcasting a suicide can increase the chances of suicide occurring, rather than preventing it if the press and media are improperly handled. In this instance, Paul’s initial apology note says he hoped showing the video would save lives, but there is a real possibility that he has harmed many of his viewers by releasing his Aokigahara video. One of the biggest mistakes in media coverage of suicide is depicting the method by which the victim died. Paul exposed over six million viewers to footage of the hanged body in his vlog. Logan Paul’s behavior in the Aokigahara video was awful, but the inclusion of the dead body was his most significant mistake.
A few seconds of Googling (which Logan Paul failed to do) will reveal the other significant things to avoid when reporting or depicting suicide. Do not speak as if the suicide was unexplainable or occurred for a single reason. It is important not to downplay the complexity of the issue and mislead the public. Do not romanticize the circumstances around the death, nor glamorize the victim. This contributes to suicide contagion or “copycat suicides,” and again misleads the public. And finally, do not leave readers, listeners, or viewers without resources, such as suicide helplines, in case they are having thoughts of suicide or self-harm. About a year ago, Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why” came under fire for failing to follow these easy guidelines, too. The media needs to do better, and we as consumers of the media need to demand more sensitive coverage about the issue of suicide. Logan Paul is a problem, but he is only one part of a more significant issue.
If you ever find yourself in crisis in regard to your mental health, please go to suicideprevention.ca/saskatchewan-crisis-centres/, or Google your location + “suicide prevention” if you are outside of Saskatchewan. Help is there for everyone who needs it, including you.