Exercises in suicide withdrawn

DENMARK

Distribution of Danish educational material entitled Your life - Take it, Use it, Create it, aimed at 14 to 18-years-olds, has been stopped following fears that it could lead to a spate of suicides.

One of the tasks included in the material requires pupils to write a farewell note to their parents and explain why they decided to kill themselves. In another task, pupils must write a short story about the suicide of a young person and include the person's experiences and feelings before the act and the reactions of the family afterwards.

"These tasks have been formulated thoughtlessly and reveal great ignorance about suicide," says Gert Jessen, a project co-ordinator at the Centre of Suicide Research at the University of Odense. He believes that the tasks could encourage suicides among the pupils.

"More than 90 per cent of the youngsters reading this material have not given suicide any real thought," he says. "Here they're being forced to reflect on it. Some of them could be pushed into a suicide situation."

Merete Nordentoft, a psychiatrist at a Copen-hagen hospital, says: "By writing a suicide note the youths will get into a line of thought that they shouldn't be tempted into. Young people are very easily influenced."

Soeren Ventegodt, the head of the Research Centre for Life Quality and the author of Your life - Take it, Use it, Create it, rejects the criticism. "The teacher is free to choose subjects and tasks and to change them. The many positive and constructive texts and tasks will inspire pupils towards good and responsible lives," he says.

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