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The International Writers Magazine: Radio Review:

BBC Radio 4 -British Teenage Suicides Broadcast October 2008
Presented by Penny Marshall
Jess Armstrong

Enlisting the voices of the Bridgend teens, Penny Marshall strives to uncover the reasons behind the Welsh suicide epidemic; why have so many youths in this area taken their lives? If good radio shows force you to think about the things that we collectively hide from, this one scores high marks.

This documentary heavily places weight on the ever-lasting internet debate, initiating from the start the idea that social networking sites can be a potential hazard to young minds. One Samaritan interviewed refers to the case being a contagion; that the idea of suicide is at its height within friendship groups, including those of internet communication. Whilst a local Salvation Army member confirms that none of the deaths were directly linked, the programme highlights the issue that the death of one person can make another vulnerable, regardless of their correspondence.

Penny crafts interest in her interviews. Whilst in the Samaritan Headquarters she stumbles across a possible conclusion that the previously mentioned ‘contagion effect’ is a matter of identity. Perhaps the examples set by someone of a similar age and background, with the similar suicidal thoughts, sends the negative message to others that there truly is no other option.

Although the programme does not overly emphasise shocking statistics surrounding teenage suicide, its intent to inform and raise awareness is closely followed. In speaking to local youths affected, as well as ex-sufferers of mental health setbacks, Penny manages to confront one common factor; the grim lack of support. This was certainly a widespread viewpoint of those interviewed, however I was glad to hear of other dynamics being taken into consideration. Pinning all the unjust on the condition of the Welsh mental health services seemed a little too effortless, shying away from further exploration into the reasons behind the state of young minds in the first place. A good half way into the programme, the idea that suicide can be area dependent is introduced. We hear of how suicide can be commonly clustered in poorer regions with elevated use of drugs and alcohol, even delving into the idea that many victims under intoxicated influences did not want to kill themselves in the first place.

I did find that the general consensus within the programme placed blame on factors that would cause someone to kill themselves. We live in an age where we hear of so many young people crying out for help or attention but not wanting to do themselves any actual harm, and I was surprised this wasn’t mentioned. This gave Penny a rather biased point of view, which may have been her intent, but I felt she could have considered both sides of this argument.

Overall, the topic was dealt with sensitively; particularly when addressing the problems the media created for affected families when choosing to republish photos and stories of past victims. It was enlightening to learn that the local MP Madeline Moon conjured a list of those families that did not want media attention when other deaths occurred, which is perhaps a disturbing yet accurate predictability of the future. The show does in fact open with the statistic that over twenty young people have ended their lives in Bridgend alone in the course of a year; a frightening fact yet one that compels us to learn more and probe the impending question of why this is happening.

Despite the radio network being a successful and popular broadcast platform, British Teenage Suicides is put forward as a passive programme that eliminates the process of expanding unwanted media coverage of the small Welsh county. It emphasises its objective as being concerned, focusing primarily on prevention in the future, not speculation in the present.

© Jess Armstrong Nov 1st 2008
<jessarmstrong35 at>

Jess is studying Creative Writing at the University of Portsmouth

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