Editorial: More to suicide than simple prank

The apparent suicide of a British nurse who fell victim to a prank by an Australian radio station has sparked anger around the world, and a tidal wave of abuse levelled at the DJs involved.

That anger is dangerously misguided.

The decision by 2Day FM DJs Mel Greig and Michael Christian to call King Edward VII's Hospital in London, where the Duchess of Cambridge had been admitted with acute morning sickness, was silly and childish. However, they cannot and should not be held accountable for the death of nurse Jacintha Saldanha, who reportedly took her own life three days after she was fooled into thinking Greig and Christian were Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles calling to check on Princess Kate's condition.

Suicide is a complicated thing. Saldanha made a poor choice for which she alone is responsible.

Putting her death at the feet of the radio station that played a prank on her reduces suicide to a simple cause-and-effect equation that not only fails to reflect the complexity of the issue, it sends a dangerous message to vulnerable people.

That message legitimises Saldanha's decision as a reasonable and proportionate response to the embarrassment she no doubt suffered as a result of the prank.

Greig and Christian are responsible for inflicting that embarrassment; they are not responsible for inflicting her death.

The global condemnation they have received also assumes that the prank was the sole reason Saldanha chose to end her life.

That is another gross distortion of the realities of suicide.

While the facts of this particular case are unclear, it would be naïve to assume that Saldanha was living an entirely happy, healthy and trouble-free life before last week, then the prank call sent her into a spiral of utter despair and hopelessness.

Most people know someone who has taken their own life, and they know the reasons they took such a drastic step were not black and white. Sometimes those reasons aren't apparent at all, even to those closest to them.

The death of Jacintha Saldanha, like all those who commit suicide, is a sad and tragic waste of a human life.

If we want fewer people to take the same path she did, though, we are going to have to gain a much more sophisticated understanding of suicide than has been demonstrated since her death.

Manawatu Standard