Troubled life in limelight

Last updated 05:00 24/02/2014

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OPINION: To an outsider, Charlotte Dawson would seem to have had everything.

She had glamour, beauty and success in her chosen careers from a very early age.

In industries such as modelling and television, noted for their ephemerality, she had remained in the public eye for a considerable time.

After a successful career as a model, she had become a fashion correspondent for women's magazines and later a regular performer on a variety of celebrity getaway programmes and talk shows.

She was also, however, a notably brittle and fragile character, as had become apparent in recent years.

A marriage in 1999 lasted only two years. In 2007, she left New Zealand after angrily denouncing the hostile attention of New Zealand media and its coverage of her.

A couple years ago she was admitted to hospital in Sydney after attempting suicide. More recently she had spoken candidly of her battles with severe depression.

Her death at the weekend, apparently by her own hand, at her flat in the inner-city Sydney district of Woolloomooloo has prompted many expressions of grief from friends who spoke of her warm and loving personality.

It has also prompted suggestions that bullying by media, and particularly social media such as Twitter, was a prime factor in her death. While the suggestions are understandable, they are also too glib and superficial.

Depression is a terrible and difficult affliction to deal with. Its root causes are often not easily discernible and its treatment can be long and arduous. The factors that drive people to end their own lives are similarly complex and hard to unravel.

As the testimony of her friends shows, Dawson had long been troubled by various elements in her life. She had, according to one friend for instance, dwelt for some time on the fact that she had grown up without a father.

Dawson's troubles with the media also did not begin with Twitter. The hostile media coverage she complained of when she left New Zealand occurred in 2007, when Twitter was a mere fledgling.

That said, Twitter is notoriously a medium where often deeply malicious and wounding comments can be made anonymously. Regrettably, it seems to invite that kind of vile behaviour. The ease with which abusive comments can be made is one reason some people avoid the site.

Since Dawson's death, a New South Wales politician has suggested that more should be done to deal with bullying comments on Twitter and other such sites.

But detestable as that behaviour is, it is difficult to see as a practical matter how it could be done. Facebook and sites that require users to identify themselves can be policed.

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Users of sites like Twitter can make themselves untraceable and it would be hard to frame workable laws or regulations that could catch or deter them.

In any event, most people who become famous either ignore social media or learn to take what is said about them, whether it is good or ill, with a philosophical shrug. It is sad that Dawson, for whatever reason, was not one of them.

- Canterbury

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