Health specialists yesterday cautioned the media to be more responsible about what they write and broadcast, saying that it can have detrimental effects on both the subjects of media reports and the audience.
The Mental Health Association of Taiwan (MHAT) said that while some positive news reports bring hope to the public, the majority of reports are "negative" and "unhealthy," causing distress to the public.
"Pollution to the eye causes distress to the heart," is the group's media slogan.
A survey conducted by the association ranked the top 10 distressing news reports last year. In first place was the suicide of actor Ni Ming-ran (倪敏然), followed by the suicide of psychiatrist Chen Kuo-hua (陳國華) and the suicide of academic Lee Tien-yu (李天佑). In fourth place was the suicide of an honors student at Taipei Municipal Chien Kuo High School, followed by reports that Yu Hsiang-chuan (余祥銓) had apparently suffered a nervous breakdown after taking part in a celebrity talent show.
The results were obtained from a sample of 87 academics, social workers, parents and researchers.
Broadcasting Development Fund (BDF) head Connie Lin (林育卉) said that there had been too much coverage of Ni's suicide, which made headlines everywhere, with some papers spreading the story over several pages.
She added that the media tended to show explicit footage of suicide scenes and go into graphic details, while not adequately explaining the reasons behind suicides.
"While news reports may just be a matter of a stroke of the pen or a snap of the camera to the media, to the people involved and the audience it may have an effect which lasts for the rest of their lives," Lin said.
Research conducted by the BDF found that suicide rates increased following news reports of Ni's and Chen's deaths, Lin said.
Doctors say that when patients are questioned about their motives for attempting suicide, many said it was due to events on television which made them feel depressed, she said.
The MHAT urged the government to strengthen laws protecting public mental health in different sectors of society.
"Events shouldn't be romanticized, and the people involved shouldn't be characterized as heroic," Lin said.
"In the case of Chen's suicide, he treated many patients and many people looked up to him. By making him seem heroic, adolescents he treated may have thought that suicide was a good idea," she said.