A series of suicides involving teenagers and young adults in a South Wales community has prompted a predictable response, from national media interest to a complete lack of understanding about this particular generation.

There is undoubtedly more to these cases than mere coincidence, but attention appears to be focusing on one key area – the internet, particularly the social networks that appear to link all those involved.

But while the first rumblings of a bandwagon can be heard and people start lining up to jump aboard, the central issue is largely being ignored.

Apart from the local Coroner, Philip Walters, who raised concerns at the high level of suicides amongst the under 30s – particularly young men – following an inquest in January, there seems little in the way of considered and grown up debate over the issue.

One of the most disquieting comments has come from Madeleine Moon, MP for Bridgend whose constituency covers much of the area affected by this apparent cluster.

She claimed that youth websites “romanticise” suicide as people who take their own lives often have dozens of memorial messages sent to them and added: “I have already started touring schools in Bridgend hammering home the message suicide is tragic, not romantic.”

This seems completely wide of the mark and also ignores one important fact – this generation has been brought up on a diet of romanticising death and tragedy.

From the beatification of the People’s Princess, to the semi-permanent shrines of flowers, cuddly toys and largely meaningless eulogies that spring up at the scene of just about any sort of fatal accident or crime, this generation has been continually told that grief is good.

Not only that, but grief should be a very public and shared experience.

Children, teenagers and young adults have microphones thrust towards them and are encouraged to voice their hurt, their shock and their feelings of helplessness at every opportunity.

So the messages left on websites by friends of those who have taken their lives are simply a natural extension of what society as a whole apparently condones.

The issue is not whether the internet is encouraging a spate of suicides. It is whether our general attitude and response to death, grief and tragedy has become distorted and misguided.

The lead that should be followed on these incidents in South Wales is the one set by the Coroner and the likes of the Samaritans, not the one being put forward by the local MP and others.

The creation of a task force seems to be a sensible, if a little belated, first step.

(As a footnote: perhaps some of the answers to the question of why we have a younger generation in despair lie in some other stories doing the rounds at the moment – such as this; or maybe this; possibly even this. Or maybe it is all of them and many other similar stories and so what is required is a bit of joined-up thinking, rather than short-term bandwagon jumping?).

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3 responses »

  1. Nick Scott Donald says:

    I’m not one to knock physcial health issues – far from it – but I find that contemporary UK culture seems to be driven by a need to be healthy, while there is an astonishing lack of media interest in psychological well-being.

    But as long as an easy scapegoat can be found for suicides, the moral leaders of the nation and its media can sleep soundly.

  2. […] incidents. It is this kind of joined up thinking that the situation requires and which the local Coroner Philip Walters has been urging for some […]

  3. […] MP initially claimed social networking sites were “romanticising suicide” and is now suggesting that pupils need to learn the sensible way to use the […]

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