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Suicide isn't romantic or iconic. It's permanent.

Charlotte Dawson took her own life last Saturday. She was 47.

Editor’s note: This post deals with suicide. Some readers may find the article triggering.

The massive outpouring of grief and sadness for Charlotte Dawson is making me increasingly uncomfortable.

Ever since the news broke on Saturday morning that the 47-year-old celebrity had died by suicide, media and social media have been saturated with tributes from those who knew her and those who didn’t.

The shock and sorrow are very probably genuine but the celebrity statements and tweets, the eulogising, the hashtags…..I get that sharing thoughts and memories is a natural way for some people to process a tragedy.

But suicide is not the same as other kinds of tragedy and to treat it the same way is incredibly dangerous.

Unlike sudden deaths caused by accidents and crimes, suicide is well known to be contagious. The phenomenon of copycat suicides is called Suicide Contagion or The Werther Effect and it’s a well documented result of suicide either within a school, a community or by a celebrity.

For this reason, there have always been strict guidelines around media reporting of suicide, particularly around any descriptions of the method used. Mostly, these guidelines are respected when it comes to not reporting specifics but not in the case of celebrities, where no salacious detail is spared from a public ravenous for information and a media desperate to extend and expand its coverage of a ‘hot’ story.

So it was when Michael Hutchence died by suicide back in 1997.

Just a week ago, we saw the final installment in the INXS telemovie, which detailed the lead up to Hutchence’s suicide and was accompanied by blanket media coverage that rehashed coroner’s reports, police reports and highly specific details of how Hutchence killed himself.

Nobody will ever know if this impacted on Charlotte Dawson’s decision to kill herself just six days later, reportedly in similar circumstances. This may well have been a coincidence. Or not.

We know that she watched the INXS program because she tweeted about it afterwards – her close friend was listed in the credits.

Regardless, what disturbs me is this. When a celebrity dies by suicide, it is inevitably a huge news story in the way it never is when it’s a regular person. There is a degree of genuine sadness but there’s also a large element of rubber-necking masquerading as concern.

Has the suicide contagion been released by the media once again?

The media run blanket coverage, chasing down every possible angle, asking everyone with even the most tenuous link to the celebrity for their thoughts.

Magazines run glossy commemorative issues. Websites like Mamamia publish thoughtful think pieces about the causes and what we can possibly learn.

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From the point of view of someone with a mental illness or who is feeling suicidal, this can all look pretty enticing; seductive even. All this glowing attention. All these tributes. All this regret that ‘we let her down’.

All these promises to be better people and ‘never let it happen again’. All this very public, overwhelmingly positive eulogising for a complex person reduced to platitudes and gushing praise. All this talk of her being ‘at peace now’.

If you’re at the bottom of the well of depression and despair, that can sound very appealing. In fact, the idea of suicide begins to sound somehow…. romantic.

I have several friends who have been touched by suicide. There is nothing noble or iconic about it. Nothing grand. No peace. It’s shattering and incomprehensibly devastating.

The ripples extend outward like tsunamis, crashing into family and friends whose lives are never the same. They are forever crippled by guilt and grief. That is the legacy of suicide.

I have another friend who has a family member he fears is suicidal. He is terrified that this vulnerable person will catch the suicide contagion that may have been unleashed once again by media coverage of Michael Hutchence’s death all these years after his death and possibly continued by Charlotte Dawson.

Here’s what we must be clear about.

Suicide does not make you iconic or a hero or an object of noble martyrdom. It does not raise you up above your problems nor bring you peace. You will be dead. You won’t know whether people are saying nice things about you or not. And you can’t undo it. As is often said, suicide is a very final solution to what is a temporary situation.

Charlotte Dawson had attempted suicide before, in the madness of moments too bleak to endure. But she fought through those times and fought back. She embraced her life. Until she made a decision that was irreversible.

Michael Hutchence’s worst nightmares came true after his suicide. His beloved partner followed him to the grave leaving his most precious daughter an orphan, raised by a man Hutchence then despised. I don’t buy that Charlotte would be looking down and enjoying the outpouring of love and goodwill towards her.

She’s dead. It’s over. And there’s nothing glamorous or gentle about that.

*Anonymous works in the media and she met Charlotte Dawson in a work context several times over the past five years.

If this post brings up issues for you, or you just need someone to talk to, please call Lifeline on 131 114. You can also visit the Lifeline website here and the Beyond Blue website here.

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