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Charlotte’s Law: the cyberbullying debate

Charlotte’s Law: the cyberbullying debate

The tragic news that the former model and television presenter Charlotte Dawson had taken her own life last weekend has left many people shocked and very sad. Although I never met Charlotte nor knew much about her career – what I did know through the news was that she was the victim of some awful bullying through social media and that she had suffered many years of depression.

Charlotte’s death has focused the spotlight on many important issues. Firstly the ongoing challenges around mental health and how most people in the community need to be more educated on the signs of mental illness and what to do about them. In response to Charlotte’s death, I heard a very good radio interview with a mental health educator, talking about the red flags when it came to suicide. She mentioned that a sudden change in personality – from a depressed state, to an elated disposition – can be a red flag because it can signal that the person with depression has made a decision to end their life. The educator said that if you know of someone in this position it is important that you ask them directly: “Are you thinking about suicide?”

The educator appreciates that this may be a difficult question to ask, particularly if it is a work colleague or neighbour that you don’t know well, but the question could save a life. Lifeline advises that most people with thoughts of suicide want to talk about it. They want to live – but desperately need someone to hear their pain and offer them help to keep safe.

Cyber bullying is another topic that Charlotte’s death has brought into the limelight. Charlotte was hospitalised after an attempted suicide in 2012 when she received an onslaught of abuse through social media. Although Charlotte was a prominent campaigner against cyberbulling, it caused very deep wounds. This week ,Charlotte’s friend Em Mastronardi issued an online petition on change.org calling for the creation of “Charlotte’s Law”, which will hopefully motivate federal and state governments to take a tougher stance on cyber bulling and for social media companies to take greater accountability for their content.

What makes me very sad is that some people think it’s ok to be cruel or rude to another human being. I cringe when I hear comments like “well they are a celebrity, what do  they expect?” Cruelty – regardless of age, career, race, religion, economic status – is not ok. If we treated everyone with compassion and kindness, what a different world we would have.

And I feel a very deep sadness for Charlotte, that her world felt so painful she couldn’t go on. If only she asked someone for help, she may be alive and well today.

Need Help? Telephone Lifeline 131114 or beyondblue 1300224636

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