Amid the ugly baying for blood from the social media mob on a witchhunt over the tragic death of Jacintha Saldanha, a voice of reason is desperately needed.
While the radio industry goes down the track of a necessary review of standards and codes; while Scotland Yard follows its process of investigating the suspected suicide; while the hospital in question reviews its protocols; it’s important to remember that at the core of this terrible story is the issue of mental health.
Patrick McGorry, leading psychiatrist, former Australian of the Year – and always a voice of calm – has reminded us that suicide is a complex issue that is unlikely to be caused by one individual factor (Patrick pictured right – photo by Alan Porritt, AAP).
He has expressed compassion for the two DJs at the centre of the storm, and surely anyone who saw their first interviews last night would feel some sense of sympathy for them (although one might question the timing – was it too early for them to be making their statements? Their own states of mind appear to be incredibly fragile.)
“I feel sorry for them because they obviously had no intention of causing any harm. Blame is hardly ever useful,” Professor McGorry told Fairfax Media.
“Most people are in a state of mental ill health leading up to when they kill themselves and it would have needed more than just that trigger to actually bring that about.
“You could say that a stressful life event like this was a contributory cause – and maybe she (Ms Saldanha) wouldn’t have killed herself at this point in time without that having happened – but it was likely that there were some other factors going on too.”
Now it’s clear that Mel Greig and Michael Christian are in the midst of their own stressful life event, the targets of appalling hatred and calls for charges of murder and manslaughter.
There was barely a pause before blame was laid at their feet.
“If people are arguing that public humiliation has been related to the death of this women then must one must also reflect that public humiliation directed towards those two people on the radio is not going to be helpful either,” Jaelea Skehan, acting director of the Hunter Institute of Mental Health, told Fairfax.
Ms Skehan, who has led the Mindframe committee on media guidelines on reporting suicide and mental health for the last decade said: “The kind of behaviour that people have been criticising the radio hosts for, they’re now doing very similar types of behaviour back towards them with vitriol,” she said.
“While it’s obviously tragic for everyone concerned, her family, her colleagues and all who knew her, it’s also tragic for the two people who have been named and shamed in association with it.”
The only positive thing that may come out of this whole sorry affair, this tragic confluence of events, is a discussion about suicide and mental health in general.
And Frank Quinlan, chief executive of the Mental Health Council of Australia, had this to say: “What this case shows is we need to be having a conversation about suicide and about mental health in general and how we can better support people who may be vulnerable – that’s really the only prospect we have of getting anything positive out of this.
“The message to all of us needs to be to take a moment to pause before we jump to accusations that could have a lasting effect.”
Call Lifeline on 13 11 14 if you feel the need for assistance.