Minister slammed for breaching Samaritans guidance on discussing suicide

The vaccines minister tried to blame lockdown as the cause of people taking their lives.

The Samaritans charity has clear guidance for anyone who is talking and writing about suicide. The reasons are obvious, given the huge impact that language can have on behaviour.

So when MP Nadhim Zahawi said that two people had taken their own lives ‘because of the Covid lockdown’ on Monday, and used the term ‘committed’ to describe what they did, it’s no wonder he received criticism.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4 today (July 19), the vaccines minister, said: “Two of [a business’] staff committed suicide because of the severe lockdown.”

Listeners then rushed to Twitter to share their concern for the way this was described.

Guardian journalist Peter Walker wrote: “Several times now I’ve heard Nadhim Zahawi cite a business in his constituency where, he said, two staff members killed themselves “because” of the lockdown.

“Samaritans are clear that seeking to attribute specific reasons for suicide should very much be avoided.

“Zahawi just did it again, on R4, saying the two staff members killed themselves “because of the severe lockdown”. A govt minister should be briefed about these things.”

Samaritans, which supports people in emotional distress or who may be at risk of suicide, also states that the term ‘committed’ should never be used when reporting that someone has taken their own life, as the act is no longer a crime. Nor should one reason be attributed to a person who dies by suicide or has a suicide attempt.

“No one ‘commits’ suicide. It isn’t a crime,” another user commented.

Samaritans’ reporting guidance states: “Speculation about the ‘trigger’ or cause of a suicide can oversimplify the issue and should be avoided. Suicide is extremely complex and most of the time there is no single event or factor that leads someone to take their own life.”

The group adds: “On average, more than 6,000 individuals take their own lives by suicide each year across the United Kingdom (UK) and Republic of Ireland (ROI). Some of these deaths attract media attention. Suicide is a complex topic and presents a distinct set of challenges for the journalists who report on it.” And ministers who speak about it, it seems.

When life is difficult, Samaritans are here – day or night, 365 days a year. You can call them for free on 116 123, email them at [email protected], or visit www.samaritans.org to find your nearest branch.

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