Authors: South Western Times JOURNALIST: Joe Spagnolo
Event: 2003 TheMHS Awards
Type of resource: TheMHS Awards
Award state: WA
Award level: Winner
Award category: Print
Abstract: Mental health, and more specifically the sensitive issue of suicide has almost been a “no go” area for many newspapers and other media in Australia. The South Western Times – a weekly newspaper where I have worked at for nearly two decades in the heartland of rural Western Australia – rarely reported suicides. If they were, the reports were brief in the back pages of the publication. In the string of 2002 a 22-year-old man in our district took his life. The Times and other media knew about the death through police but as usual a decision was made not to report the incident. Two days later, a 23 year old man in our district took his life. This was followed by the deaths by suicide of another three young men. In just 41 days our community had lost five young lives. Everywhere you went people were asking “why” and yet health authorities, police and media remained silent on the issue. When I became a journalist 17 years ago I did so because I believed I could make a positive contribution to the community I lived. I still do. Maybe it was this desire to make a difference which drove me to convince the editor of the newspaper that we could play a positive role in helping raise community awareness about mental health issues and ultimately help prevent more deaths. After consulting health professionals and police I began what has turned out to be an exhaustive but worthwhile investigation into the issue of suicides in rural WA, putting together more than 30 reports on the issue. I was given access to policy records and statistics which I used in articles to show the extent of the problem – they showed the number of suicides has equalled road deaths in our region over the past three years. M reports have included interviews with parents and families who have lost loved ones to suicide which in some cases highlighted deficiencies in mental health practices. Parents who had lost children to suicide, in an effort to stop further deaths, told of the devastation of suicide not just for the victims but for those left behind. We have featured the stories of young people who had tried to take their lives but fortunately had not succeeded – their stories including messages of hope for others suffering depression and advice on where to get help. I convinced our deputy mayor, Judy Jones – normally a very private person to tell us part of her life story through our news pages in which she told youths it was “okay to be different” and that she too had overcome major obstacles in her life. Community leaders and health professionals provided information on where to get help and advice to youths and families. Throughout our series of stories, I constantly insisted on running help line and information panels on our pages showing youths and others where they could go to for help. Outcome: Our coverage galvanized our community and its leaders into looking at ways of preventing more deaths by suicide. Following publication of my articles the State Government announced the establishment of a 24 hour mental health advice telephone service Description of Facility/Organisation:
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