copyright by: Erik L. Buijtendorp Slebos, M.Sc.
There is No 3G in Heaven

“There is No 3G in Heaven”
1) is the story about a series of suicides among teenagers in a small community in Australia. The community perceives it as an epidemic, particularly since the suicides mostly take place at a railway line that passes through their community. The 3G in the title refers to smart-phones and other electronic devices for communication.

The introduction of the documentary states:
…. “Until now, generally agreed insight has been to plainly minimize the talks about the suicides but in speaking to people who've lost children, reporter Liz Jackson found that teenagers are in fact talking about the suicides constantly on Facebook. Social media has the power to change attitude, for better or worse, and it's now acknowledged that suicide avoidance tactics need to deal with this…..”

This generally agreed insight to plainly minimize talk about suicide is what made me wonder where that agreement came from, and between whom that was. Particular the attitudes of the school principals in the documentary surprised me unpleasantly. But then I thought that perhaps I have become “blind” for the reality how people still deal with this subject. Was that the influence of my own experiences as a suicide survivor, and/or the influence of the thanatology study?
This evidence is based on more than 50 investigations into imitative suicides that have been
conducted. Systematic reviews of these studies have consistently drawn the same conclusion: media
reporting of suicide can lead to imitative suicidal behaviors. These reviews have also observed that
imitation is more evident under some circumstances than others. It varies as a function of time, peaking
within the first three days and leveling off by about two weeks, but sometimes lasting longer. It is related
to the amount and prominence of coverage, with repeated coverage and ‘high impact’ stories being most
strongly associated with imitative behaviors. It is accentuated when the person described in the story and
the reader or viewer are similar in some way, or when the person described in the story is a celebrity and
is held in high regard by the reader or viewer. Particular subgroups in the population (e.g., young people,
people suffering from depression) may be especially vulnerable to engaging in imitative suicidal
behaviors. Finally, and probably most importantly, overt description of suicide by a particular method
may lead to increases in suicidal behavior employing that method. 3)

The Resource 4) presents guidelines for the media and how to deal with suicide:
• Take the opportunity to educate the public about suicide
• Avoid language which sensationalizes, normalizes suicide, present it as a solution to
• Avoid prominent placement and undue repetition of stories about suicide or attempted
• Avoid explicit description of the method used in a completed
• Avoid providing detailed information about the site of a completed or attempted suicide
• Word headlines carefully
• Exercise caution in using photographs or video footage
• Take particular care in reporting celebrity suicides
• Show due consideration for people bereaved by suicide
• Provide information about where to seek help
• Recognize that media professionals themselves may be affected by stories about suicide

When taken the first guideline it may be assumed that this should be a guideline for schools too.
So what caused the principals in the documentary to be so hesitant to talk openly about a subject that is
widely spoken about between their students? Are fear, shame, religion and incapacity their motivation?
The research of Gelder, Mayou, and Geddes 5) shows that some people may worry that asking
about suicidal intentions will make suicide more likely. In reality, as long as the enquiries are made
sympathetically, it does not.
The position of the principals of these Australian High Schools becomes more strange when you
take in consideration that the WHO writes in 2008: “We are particularly indebted to Professor Diego de
Leo, Griffith University, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, who produced an earlier version of this
booklet” and that in 1963 in Australia was founded “Lifeline” a 24-hour crisis support line. This service
now answers around 1,800 calls each day, with around 50 calls from people at high risk of suicide.
Lifeline’s services are now made possible through the efforts of around 1,000 staff and 11,000
volunteers, operating from over 60 locations nationwide.

2) World Health Organization, & the International Association for Suicide Prevention, 2008, page 6, ISBN 978 92 4 159707 4

3) World Health Organization, & the International Association for Suicide Prevention, 2008, Annex 1: An overview of the scientific literature on Imitation, page 13-15,
ISBN 978 92 4 159707 4

4) World Health Organization, & the International Association for Suicide Prevention, 2008, page 3, ISBN 978 92 4 159707 4

5) Gelder, Mayou, Geddes (2005). Psychiatry: Page 170. New York, NY; Oxford University Press Inc.

I decided to look if the story about an increase of suicides after the media has written about it is true. Researching this subject brought me to a collaboration between the World Health Organization and the International Association for Suicide Prevention. In 2008 they presented together: “Preventing Suicide; A Resource for Media Professionals”. In the Introduction it is stated that “The factors contributing to suicide and its prevention are complex and not fully understood, but there is evidence that the media plays a significant role.” 2)
My conclusion about this documentary is that Liz Jackson, the maker of the documentary, a bit too easily accepts the “generally agreed insight”, while it is no longer a generally agreed insight.
Perhaps she, and the principals, should have done their homework just a bit better.
It is a missed chance that Ms Jackson didn’t find a place for this subject in the documentary.
As it is presented it only adds to the sensationalism of the suicides, an approach which is  advised against strongly by the World Health Organization and the International Association for Suicide Prevention.