Sadly, the lynch mobs were out in full force on Friday on Twitter and other online media, threatening the radio show hosts after a prank phone call they made to a nurse who took the call later committed suicide.
Lost in the tragic suicide is the likelihood that nobody would even know or care about this incident were it not for the fact that the nurse was on reception duty for Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, who put the call through to Kate’s nurse. In the U.S. alone, over 30,000 people commit suicide each and every year. Some of them are nurses.
Also lost in this tragedy is any sense of perspective — as though a single action, incident or behavior could lead someone to end their lives. While I’m sure it could happen in some fictional world, in the real world most people choose a suicidal act only when at the end of a long, desperate rope of depression.
So while haters will hate, anybody hating on the DJs — who had no way of knowing the mental state of the people they were contacting for an otherwise harmless prank — has completely lost it.
The two DJs, Mel Greig and Michael Christian from Sydney-based 2DYFM in Australia, called the hospital early on Tuesday morning posing as the Queen and Prince Charles to obtain details of the medical condition of Kate, who was being treated there for pregnancy-related sickness.
Jacintha Saldhana, an Indian-origin nurse of King Edward VII hospital, put the call through to Kate’s nurse. Two days later, she was found dead in her house in an apparent suicide.
Some people put 2 + 2 together, and think that since the prank call preceded the suicide, obviously the prank call caused the suicide. But everything we know about suicide suggests a more nuanced likelihood.
Calmer minds should prevail and most people know that correlation does not equal causation. So it’s time to put aside the emotional response to the suicide (and frankly, all suicide is tragic), and stop the blame game. Stop the hating.
Jill Stark, over at the Australian Great Lakes Advocate, has a good story on the importance of not putting the blame on the DJs, since it’s highly unlikely the DJs’ actions were the direct cause of the nurse taking her life:
But leading psychiatrist and former Australian of the Year Patrick McGorry called for calm, saying suicide was a complex issue that was unlikely to be caused by one individual factor.
“I feel sorry for them because they obviously had no intention of causing any harm. Blame is hardly ever useful,” Professor McGorry said.
“Most people are in a state of mental ill health leading up to when they kill themselves and it would have needed more than just that trigger to actually bring that about.
“You could say that a stressful life event like this was a contributory cause – and maybe she wouldn’t have killed herself at this point in time without that having happened – but it was likely that there were some other factors going on too.”
Frank Quinlan, chief executive of the Mental Health Council of Australia, said there was a risk of compounding the tragedy by targeting the radio presenters.
“It’s hard to imagine that the vitriol and hatred and anger that we’re seeing in this case is going to result in anything positive,” he said.
If anyone is to blame, it’s not the DJs. It is a society that turns a blind eye to the epidemic problem of suicide — except when it happens to someone connected to a celebrity. That is the real place to point blame.
It’s a society that turns into a virtual lynch mob when anyone connected to a celebrity is affected. But could care less when a nurse, physician or therapist in their own community commits suicide.
It’s a society that wants the fun, zany behavior of morning DJs (a staple of modern radio for decades now), but doesn’t want them to do anything that could unintentionally cause a tragedy of this nature. You know, a safer kind of zaniness perhaps — like listening to someone slipping on a virtual banana over the air instead.
A measured, thoughtful response to such a suicide is what’s called for. Unfortunately for the DJs, however, that means they were taken off the air “until further notice.” It means the hospital — who obviously had insufficient security for screening phone calls to celebrities staying in their care facility — is looking into possible legal action against the DJs, who reside half a world away from them.
No, we seem to live in a world where serious mental health issues like suicide only enter into mainstream discussions when they impact someone connected to a celebrity. And will this then lead into a serious policy discussion of how we as a society can work to provide better services to those who are suicidal in order to help prevent future occurrences?1
I doubt it.
Read the full article: Prank callers not to blame, say mental health experts
- Hint: it has nothing to do with radio DJs trying to make a living. [↩]