Sarah Britten
Sarah Britten

Can DJ Fresh tweet what he likes about suicide?

This afternoon while scrolling through Twitter as I do, I noticed an unusual exchange. You don’t usually see a hugely popular DJ in a back and forth with the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag), so I followed the conversation to see what it was all about. And quite frankly, I was appalled. Here was a role model with 143 869 followers and over half a million listeners, many of whom are young and impressionable, tweeting about whether he should tell a person who routinely threatens suicide to go ahead and do it.

Here’s the original tweet:

“Attention seeking person i know says “i just tried to kill myself”… would it be “wrong” to send them 5 ways that WILL work? #SOselfish”

Sadag responded with:
“1.Not attention seeking, a cry for help. 2.Would u give ur kids those same 5ways if they said that to u? [email protected] that tweet”

Then DJFresh again:
“Attention seeker… i KNOW them… YOU DONT … go thru this drill every single yr… including all possible “interventions” …”

Sadag:
“we DO go through it…about 400 suicidal calls EVERYDAY. They keep threatened because they need help. They will do it oneday.”

DJFresh:
“spoilt brat that does this so they have shit go their way evry yr end… all interventions tried! maybe help them “out” now”

Yep, you read that right: DJ Fresh is suggesting that somebody he knows, who’s threatening suicide, be encouraged in some way shape or form to follow through. Nice. So I tweeted him, and asked: “even if you’re angry, do you really want to tell your 143 000 followers that a person threatening suicide should go ahead?”

DJ Fresh’s defence is that he’s talking about personal experience, and was asking for advice. Yeah, because you really want to know whether your Twitter followers think it’s OK to offer a person threatening suicide five different methods for doing it.

People always get irritable when somebody threatens suicide, doesn’t do it, and then threatens again. Earlier this year we watched a very public suicide threat on Twitter, with the individual’s followers either trying to track her down in order to help her, or declaring that she was an attention-seeker and should just go ahead.

But suicide is a real problem in South Africa. According to Sadag, teen suicide is on the increase and the highest rates are females aged 15 to 19 years. Can you imagine how a depressed 17-year-old — already feeling overwhelmed by their situation and not getting the support they need — will feel when reading that tweet by the cool guy he or she hears on the radio? By somebody whose opinion matters?

When somebody famous, well-loved and widely respected expresses views like this, it only serves to endorse our society’s generally callous or indifferent attitude to depression and suicide. (People magazine ran a dreadful feature on suicide methods a couple of weeks ago — effectively a how-to manual.) Depression is a huge public health problem, but it seems that some people have a problem with taking it seriously. Some media — notably You and Huisgenoot — are giving serious attention to depression, but we still have a long way to go.

This is not a matter of freedom of speech, or expressing personal opinions. This kind of thing has real impact on some of the most vulnerable people among us, and that is unacceptable. At the time of writing, DJ Fresh is still defending his tweets, with the latest response reading:
“i REPEAT: this person is NOT suicidal… they “cry wolf” to get shit go their way at home!! hence an gatvol”

And that’s fine. Be gatvol. But don’t tell your followers about it. Because somewhere out there, watching you, is a young person who really is suicidal, and who isn’t crying wolf.

Not cool dude. Not cool at all.

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