Notes & Queries by David Herkt

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Notes & Queries: Little CD in a Prospect of Flowers

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  • Russell Brown,

    I never knew Charlotte well, but we ran with the same crowd in the early 1980s and I can confirm that she was not (she must have been 16 at the time) an ugly adolescent. I recall her looking quite different to the Charlotte we all knew later — elfin, with short blonde hair. She was quiet too, and always seemed to be on the fringe of the group, as if she hadn’t invented herself yet.

    I really only had much of a conversation with the later Charlotte once, when we both washed up that preposterous celebrity trap the Queenstown Winter Festival. She was great company and quite sanguine about her job as "whatever it is I do."

    Later in the evening, she flashed her boobs at me. She was very proud of them.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22754 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    Suicides leave me sad. Particularly one such as this where a long battle with depression precedes the death. Without ever knowing her I'm left convinced that "if only I could have ..." as completely irrational as that thought may be. I can only imagine how much worse that "if only" is for those who were her friends.

    What makes me even sadder is the way the media has both wallowed in sympathy for her (now that she is dead) and reveled in the "news story". On the one hand accusing twitter of contributing to her death and on the other hand using her once again as a commodity, never considering that by treating her as a commodity while she was alive they may have made her life less enjoyable.

    But it is good to know that she had good friends and good to read about her as a real human, Thank you David.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4451 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    The day after the news about Charlotte, I got a call to say that another acquaintance, about the same age, had died. I hadn't seen him in years, but I didn't have to hear the cause of death to guess it was suicide. Hanging, in fact.

    I wondered if there was something about reaching a certain age and just no longer having the strength to continue. Very sad.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22754 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    While the abuse Charlotte received on Twitter was hideous, it's perhaps worth recalling what it was apparently acceptable to call her on mainstream TV in 2004.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22754 posts Report Reply

  • SHG,

    Herkt: "She felt herself to be old – ‘old, old, old’ was one reiteration I remember as she watched a clip of herself on TV. "

    So Deborah Hill Cone was right then?

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/opinion/news/article.cfm?c_id=466&objectid=11208554

    nup • Since Oct 2010 • 77 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to SHG,

    So Deborah Hill Cone was right then?

    Only by accident. That is still an extremely ill-advised column.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22754 posts Report Reply

  • SHG, in reply to Russell Brown,

    That is still an extremely ill-advised column.

    In what way? Looks to me like she was on the money.

    nup • Since Oct 2010 • 77 posts Report Reply

  • Raymond A Francis,

    Should we be told the method that Charlotte used to end her life?
    Other than that my feelings mirror Bart’s and just a pity she did not have just a few more real friends

    45' South • Since Nov 2006 • 576 posts Report Reply

  • Tristan,

    This is a very personal story about a dear friend and your grief must be very raw. Thank you for sharing this with us David I have something in both my eyes

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 221 posts Report Reply

  • David Herkt, in reply to Raymond A Francis,

    The detail about Charlotte's method of death was in the Australian papers, Raymond. I guess it is a matter of national media differences that it wasn't reported here. I know its not nice, at all. And as far as "should we be told", yes, I think we should.

    Auckland • Since Sep 2007 • 52 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __,

    As far as I'm concerned DHC and her armchair psychologising can fuck right off. How dare she be so patronising? It's just more bullying.

    Thanks for bringing CD to life for us David. I'm sorry for your loss.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3887 posts Report Reply

  • MaggieB,

    I would really appreciate it if the author could remove the mention of the method of death please. Previous cases and suicide research (which I've reviewed for a suicide prevention guideline in NZ) suggests that some vulnerable people can have their own depression triggered by media portrayals of suicide and can use copycat methods. It has happened quite a few times in schools. Media are advised to not go into detail about methods in particular which is hopefully why it hasn't been covered elsewhere. Charlotte Dawson's struggles with depression were well known and she had many followers who may have been inspired by her fight against cyberbullying and who will have taken her suicide very badly. So one has to be very careful in the coverage.

    For advice to media on reporting about suicide, including a suggestion that method not be detailed, and links to research that contributed to this advice, please see this page: http://www.health.govt.nz/publication/reporting-suicide-resource-media
    (BTW, I have not seen the method mentioned in other media to date, fortunately.)

    Since Feb 2014 • 2 posts Report Reply

  • MaggieB,

    On another point, I think the allusion to the suicide being timed for media exposure unlikely to be true, despite how media savvy Ms Dawson was. Suicide is often unplanned and responding to an overwhelming sense of despair that is hard to overcome or delay. That she was having to leave her home, her sanctuary as the author says, so it could be opened up for an open home for it to be sold, was more likely the trigger for the timing, as well as her housemate being away. People who suicide find it very hard to look into the future, to see that life can be any different, and I doubt she would have been thinking about newspaper sales as a factor in when to end it all (and it was overshadowed by the memorial of the earthquakes in NZ in any case).

    Since Feb 2014 • 2 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to MaggieB,

    a suggestion that method not be detailed, and links to research that contributed to this advice

    Can't see the evidence there - can you point it out.

    It has happened quite a few times in schools

    Indeed, I have only seen the 'copycat' effect described for teenagers, not older people.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19686 posts Report Reply

  • Virginia Brooks,

    Thank you David, for telling your story about your friend Charlotte, it is a great tribute to her. You have the courage to be raw and honest and tell us how she died in a simple straight forward manner. Your telling has dignity.

    Sorry Maggie B, but there are many reputable studies which question the validity of the copy cat effect.
    And as the chief coroner has pointed out, not reporting suicide in a realistic manner is NOT working. More people die annually from suicide in NZ than they do from car accidents. Hello NZ!!!!
    Where's the public acknowledgement / discussion?? The advertising campaigns for public awareness?? The effective mental health systems??

    As for the copy cat effect (or contagion) - it is but one factor in a complex puzzle - not the answer. And not a factor in all cases. If only it were that simple.

    I feel I can comment on the 'copycat effect' as I live alongside it. I cant say I know everything about it, but I'm learning. My 22 yr old son committed suicide last year. He was suffering from depression and much like Charlotte, was an astute observer of the world and its many contradictions. He was smart. He would approve of open dialogue and less of an ostrich head in the sand approach.

    Since Jun 2008 • 43 posts Report Reply

  • Virginia Brooks, in reply to MaggieB,

    Read the intro again Maggie. Its not meant to be taken literally. It highlights the perfectly ironic timing of it all.
    Gotta love the universe.

    Since Jun 2008 • 43 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark,

    Virginia, I am so sorry that your son suicided. I am also very glad that you shared a bit of your story. Thank you.

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3136 posts Report Reply

  • Virginia Brooks, in reply to Jackie Clark,

    Thank you Jackie.
    Not being able to discuss the topic as a society is like cultural omerta. The zipped lips. The refusal to acknowledge. Or like averting the evil eye, weaving a magical protection 'look away now', 'don't talk about it so it wont happen'. The obligatory silence around suicide has overtones of a modern day superstition that denies the reality of death.

    Since Jun 2008 • 43 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Lilith __,

    As far as I’m concerned DHC and her armchair psychologising can fuck right off. How dare she be so patronising? It’s just more bullying.

    I'm sure it wasn't meant to be bullying, but projecting her experience onto someone else like that was foolish and inappropriate. Ironically, that is kind of what Charlotte did recently with her unwelcome and inappropriate advice to Lorde.

    I just wouldn't want to see DHC, who has her own issues, become the subject of an angry internet pile-on. Although it's probably a bit late for that.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22754 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    The Press weighs in with a galling editorial that wipes its hands of any complicity and decides we just have to live with it.
    Blinkered?
    Much!

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7889 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Virginia Brooks,

    And as the chief coroner has pointed out, not reporting suicide in a realistic manner is NOT working.

    THIS

    The question of how to reduce the number of suicides is not a simple one. About 550 people committed suicide last year compared to a road toll of 350ish.

    Back in the day there was a logically reasonable idea that publicising suicides would lead to "copy-cat" suicides. So laws were put in place to severely restrict how suicides can be reported especially around the method. The theory was that by restricting that information fewer people would be tempted to commit suicide. As a theory it was reasonable. But we've done the experiment and it has NOT worked.

    Now in my profession when the experiment shows the theory was wrong we step back and try something new.

    It is time to try something new with suicide in New Zealand because while we have worked really hard to stop people dying on our roads they are dying in greater numbers in their bedrooms and garages. Dying alone and depressed and with no hope for the future.

    I understand the need to protect the families from a media that have shown they have the sensitivity of a brick but silence over suicide has not worked and laws that were put in place with the very best of intentions are not working.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4451 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Russell Brown,

    I didn't mean to make things worse. That column made me really angry and I don't think it should have been published.

    Totally agree with Bart that we need to have more conversations on this subject.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3887 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Virginia Brooks,

    I'm sorry for your loss Virginia. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3887 posts Report Reply

  • WH,

    I did not know Charlotte, but remember that many of the remarks made about her were simply feral.

    The silences that we use to show respect for the dead are often used to conceal the supreme indifference shown to vulnerable people while they are alive. The calculated cruelty of the comments made on The Great Debate are a better measure of our society than we would probably care to admit.

    Since Nov 2006 • 784 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Russell Brown,

    I’m sure it wasn’t meant to be bullying, but projecting her experience onto someone else like that was foolish and inappropriate.

    Yeah, and to be honest DHC was very far from the worse offender when it came to well-intentioned but tone-deaf and seriously distasteful projection. I cannot speak with any authority to Dawson's state of mind, and nobody knows shit about her last day.

    I'm going to speak entirely for myself here, as a person who is living with manic-depression and a history of self-harm. Being audited and judged and used as a blank screen for other people to project their own agendas on (however well-intentioned) is neither helpful nor welcome. I'm a human being, not a DIY project you - or anyone else - can fix. Just don't do it. People with mental health issues need everyone's care, consideration and sensitivity. That's all.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

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