Accuracy and sensitivity around the reporting of mental health issues and suicide has been called for by a Cork woman who lost her two children and husband to a murder-suicide.
Una Butler’s husband, John Butler, tragically took his own life and the lives of their young children Ella and Zoe at their home in Ballycotton, Co. Cork in 2010.
Speaking at symposium on media coverage of mental health stories, organised by the University of Limerick’s Journalism Department, Ms Butler stressed the importance of not shying away from or glamorising and sensationalising murder-suicide stories.
“I can understand that people just cannot comprehend or don’t want to read about it and that is why it is so important that, when murder-suicide cases are being reported on, it should be reported accurately and in a sensitive manner – no sensationalizing, no glamorizing of the events,” Ms Butler explained.
“The media have and are in a powerful position on how they report anything in general, but in particular with murder-suicide accurate reporting is essential. People and society have a right to know how often these cases are happening,” she explained.
Ms Butler is an advocate for reform of the 2001 Mental Health Act and says it needs to be amended to allow for the involvement of spouses and partners in the treatment of mental health problems.
“I believe Zoe and Ella would be alive today. My husband (had) never hurt me; He was suffering with a psychiatric illness. I believe had I been involved in his treatment he may have been treated differently. I should have been educated about his illness and known what to do. I hadn’t been told. I hadn’t been told the effects of his medication or how he would react after that.
“Why is a person treated in isolation? They’re not living in isolation and the family are there to support them. It’s an awful tragedy when a child dies through an illness, but when a child has been murdered by a parent it’s just unnatural,” she said.
Also speaking at the symposium was Professor Jane Singer of City University London, Professor Ella Arensman from the National Suicide Research Foundation, Claire Sheeran, from national media monitoring programme for mental health and suicide, Headline, and Sean Donlon, Chairman of the Press Council of Ireland.