It began with a pregnancy and ended with a suicide.
Prince William’s wife Kate announced she was pregnant. There was a media frenzy along with some smart ass remarks from republicans. Two radio DJs got in on the act and made a prank call to the hospital where Kate was staying. They pretended to be the royal family asking after Kate’s health. After a another media storm, the DJs apologized, even as Prince Charles himself laughed it off as a joke. Two days later, Jacintha Saldanha, the nurse who took the prank call, killed herself.
The shocked radio hosts took themselves off air, as well as deleting their twitter accounts after facing a flood of abusive tweets saying they had blood on their hands.
It’s awful that Nurse Jacintha killed herself. That much is clear.
But as for everyone blaming the DJs? Well here’s the thing. Mentally well people don’t just kill themselves out of the blue for no reason. A prank phone call on its own is not enough to kill a mentally healthy person.
Jacintha left behind a husband, two daughters and an extended family in India. You don’t kill yourself and hurt so many people over a prank call unless you’re already ill from depression. I believe that the type of depression which leads to suicide is a serious illness, as real as a physical illness like cancer or heart disease. There must have been some pre-existing condition for Jacintha.
Leaving aside euthanasia, which is a separate issue, emotionally-based suicides could be divided into two main types. One involves the long battle with depression over many years in which suicide is fought against but finally wins. The other is the sudden impulsive suicide in reaction to a shocking event.
If you believe some members of the crazed mob on twitter, Nurse Jacintha was a normal, healthy and happy woman who did a sudden 180 degree flip and killed herself. But I don’t think it works like that. Far more likely that Jacintha suffered pre-existing depression, then the sudden traumatic event tipped her over the edge.
It is possible that a happy, mentally healthy person can commit suicide if struck by a event shattering the core fabric of a life. The discovery of betrayal by a trusted long term partner; the loss of a job or career; sudden financial or social ruin. A respected cricket journalist last year jumped from a fifth floor window when faced with sex charges he knew would shatter his life and reputation.
But a prank phone call? No. No way. A mentally healthy person with a husband and family does not throw it all away over that. If Jacintha did think such a thing was serious cause to kill herself, then she cannot have been of sound mind in the first place. I can only believe that she was already depressed well before this unfortunate phone call took place.
What then do we make of the radio DJs and should they be punished? No, they have been punished enough. They are reportedly shattered by this freak chain of events which they could not have foreseen. A sense of guilt and infamy will haunt them from this day on.
In any case, the prank wasn’t that bad to begin with. It was not malicious. It was not intended to hurt anyone. There was no bullying involved. But how long before the knee-jerk demand to ban all so called ‘pranks’ from here on? It would be in keeping with the hysteria and overreaction surrounding this whole event.
There are many people who are depressed and may be at risk. But that doesn’t mean the entire world should tiptoe around never doing or saying anything slightly provocative for fear someone might kill himself. Otherwise no one would ever really do anything. Let’s hope the nanny state doesn’t get that far out of hand.
The people who really come out the least creditably in this affair are the vigilantes on twitter. We may have the technology now, but we’re no different to a good old wild west lynch mob. Now, as then, reason plays no part in stopping the lust for a revenge-based adrenalized thrill kill against some hapless victim of the day – in this case, ironically, the two radio DJs.