Franklin James Cook

Community, Prevention Experts Influence “Dr. Phil” Episode

In Media, Opinion, Prevention on March 14, 2010 at 12:39 pm

Three gears working together

By Franklin Cook, SPNAC Editor

I consider Friday’s episode of the Dr. Phil Show — titled “Teens Under Pressure” — a case study of sorts, for it shows that a constructive dialogue is occurring among suicide prevention experts, communities, and the media. The process that shaped the show’s content could be an indication that community-focused suicide prevention is gaining traction in America.

Here is what happened:

Enter the media. A series of suicide fatalities strikes a high school on the West Coast, and a flurry of media coverage follows. Then the double suicide of two high school girls in the East makes the news in a big way, locally and nationally. As one might expect, the Dr. Phil Show plans a television program on the topic of suicide.

Enter the community. When the show’s senior producer contacts the West Coast town to invite people to participate in the program, city officials respond enthusiastically — not about participating but about the possible causal link between media coverage of suicide and suicide contagion.

In a follow-up e-mail to Senior Producer Astra Austin, [a city official] representing “Project Safety Net,” said there are two primary concerns about the planned Dr. Phil program.

The first is that it could contribute to “suicide contagion” following the deaths of four Gunn students since last May, and the second is that the program could “perpetuate the myth” that stress and suicide are tightly connected.

“[This] is a community at high-risk for more suicides due to suicide contagion,” [he] said in the e-mail. “Our most vulnerable teens (those perhaps with previous attempts or who are under medical care) need our protection right now — and will for some time.”

“Please understand our reluctance to participate in the show should not suggest a reluctance to confront or deal with this issue. On the contrary, the … community is working together, tirelessly, publicly, and carefully on this issue.”

Enter the suicide prevention experts. The community’s communication with the TV producer amounts to a mini-workshop on suicide contagion, packed with a well-chosen array of top-quality, up-to-date information and resources, all based on the research and expertise of organizations such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and the American Association of Suicidology.

The outcome: The content of Friday’s Dr. Phil Show clearly demonstrates that the producer and the others involved in creating the episode heard the community and tried to follow the guidelines provided by the suicide prevention experts. I have some concerns about several elements of the show (such as how people grieving from the fatalities are addressed), and the jury is certainly still out on the effects of national media coverage such as this on contagion. Those issues notwithstanding, I believe it is extremely important to affirm that this instance of the media’s coverage of suicide represents a rare collaboration among people working to cover an important news story, people in the field of suicide prevention, and people in a community that has been directly affected (I might say traumatized) by recent suicides.

[The abridged URL for this post is http://tinyurl.com/DrPhilEpisode .]

[Editor’s note: In a SPNAC post last year, “Iraq Vet and Teen Say ‘Thank You’ to Lifeline via Avatars,” it was mentioned that “Dr. Phil shared a suicide prevention message through his avatar on the Lifeline Gallery.]

Other related SPNAC posts:

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  1. I’m not really sure if conversation about suicide is welcome in Australian media. Maybe when politics change things will start moving again. The word suicide seems to be thrown loosely around so much that it would be difficult to keep hiding this issue.
    Suicide Prevention in Your Life

  2. New Harrowing and Heartbreaking Memoir Proves Love’s Enduring Power

    Joanne Mazzotta bares her soul to readers as she overcomes pain, loss and grief

    ShareThis EmailPDFPrint
    .
    WEST WARWICK, R.I. (PRWEB) November 08, 2011

    “There’s no tragedy in life like the death of a child. Things never get back to the way they were.” Echoing these words by the former president Dwight D. Eisenhower, author Joanne Mazzotta writes Why Whisper?, a mother’s gripping account of her journey alongside grief after her 32-year-old son Danny took his own life.

    Why Whisper? faces the more arduous task of living with one’s self as suicide seizes more than one life, it takes some life from everyone around it. When her son took his own life, a portion of the author’s life also died with him. In this gripping account of one mother’s journey alongside grief, Mazzotta bares her soul and her skeletons to bring readers an honest and insightful look at addiction, loss, hope, suicide, and the enduring power of love. The author further explained:

    “This experience showed me that there is a significant amount of suicide survivors in the world with a dire need for simple human-to-human compassion and understanding. I was not alone. But, during my own ordeal, I found no book, person, or god that could rescue me from the black hole of this unfamiliar territory. I felt alone. I began to journal my anguish as a way to survive my loss. This journal became more than a collection of chronicles about the lives of my family members. It became a clear reflection of the way love could deliver me from a kind of hell I had never imagined. I gave my grief a voice because its silence was trying to kill me.”

    Why Whisper? has received a good number of positive reviews from readers who were lucky to read the book before it got published. Joanne Sinatra commented, “I didn’t know you that well when I read it on your website and I had to stop every so often and breathe. As I was reading it I was actually holding my breath or shallow breathing and that is how moving it was to read it. I can tell you I cried at times. If I had to use one word to describe it – it would be “raw”. It is painful and touching. It’s sad and also happy. It has made me appreciate my life all the more. It made me realize the mountains that I thought were in front of me, and that I climbed over, were mere hills compared to what others have endured.”

    This poignantly well-crafted work of Mazzotta, Why Whisper? reminds readers that healing arrives in the most unlikely times, and love, as proverbial as it may sound, still conquers all.

  3. I’m sorry, I disagree. Politics have nothing to do with the truth.

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