Radio prank nurse suicide: any lessons to be learned?

Image of a radio microphone illustrating the prank call made by radio jocksThe UK nurse who killed herself following an Australian talkback radio prank has left the chattering classes all atwitter with recriminations about who is to blame for the tragic turn of events. The hospital, the radio jocks, the nurse’s colleagues – all are copping a share. Rebecca Sparrow has highlighted a point not-often spoken of in connection with the adult world, but which has been doing the rounds in parenting and childcare circles for a while – resilience.

Learning the vital skill of surviving painful experiences can be the most important skill we teach our children.

And it’s becoming increasingly important as we live in a world populated by those who think these infantile prank calls on talkback radio are actually funny. In a world where a man vomiting green milk on the train is done for entertainment, a world where a Kardashian can release a sex tape as a strategic publicity move, a world where gotcha calls on the radio are called comedy gold, then we’re in a world where it is impossible to insulate yourself against stupidity.

Jacintha Saldanha – the nurse and mother of two who allegedly felt so humiliated that she killed herself – was dragged into the global spotlight without choice. She was pranked. In theory it could happen to any of us at any time and rather than rail against the inane radio jocks (commercial radio seems to have deteriorated into teenage boy-level stuff – very childish) who are everywhere and will probably lamentably be around for a while, time would be better spent arming and educating ourselves and our children.

As Sparrow correctly points out in her MamaMia piece about the radio prank nurse suicide, everyone goes through tough spots in their lives and so teaching our children the skills to bounce back from humiliation will give them the ability to move forward and not be crippled by those inevitable moments that hit us all.

I’ve been dumped as a newspaper columnist three times in my career.  I’ve lost a child. I’ve embarrassed myself in front of thousands of people.  I’ve had bad reviews of my books.  And bad reviews of plays based on my books. And in 2010 I humiliated myself on statewide radio when during a celebrity NRL  tipping competition I oh-so-confidently proclaimed, “I’d never tip the Broncos. I can’t stand that Brendon Fevola”.  It was at that point the host gently pointed out that I had the wrong, er, code.  But the humiliation I felt was epic.  I was teased by friends and colleagues for months. Rebecca Sparrow

These moments will hit us all to varying degrees. By teaching our children to shrug them off as best as possible, we will help them move forward and better cope emotionally with the fallout of such personal crises., a website focused on a range of parenting issues including how parents can teach resilience, offers some practical tips from experts.

Andrew Fuller, psychologist and author of Tricky Kids says parents need to let children solve their own problems.

“If they come home from school and are having a problem with friends, ask them what they could do to change the relationship,” he says. “Guide them – don’t try to solve it.”

Other tips from the experts include teaching our kids to have a sense of humour about themselves, to laugh at their own mistakes. Don’t treat life too seriously.

Also, create a tribe around your children. In this age when extended family often live a long way away, create your own extended family where other adults are trusted and offer a place for children to turn for support and advice.

It is terribly sad that a chain of events set in motion by two moronic, imbecilic lowest-common-denominator hacks with a microphone and a telephone has ended in this awful, untimely death, but blaming the 2DayFM jocks – Mel Greig and Michael Christian – is a bit … well, unproductive and futile. I don’t believe they should be held responsible for the nurse’s actions. They should be held responsible for childish “humour” and I would hope they’re sacked for not being funny, for invading someone’s privacy, for being intrusive for no reason. In much the same way I wish Kyle Sandilands and Jackie O would be sacked for not being entertaining.

For my money, there’s nothing funny, witty or clever about deceiving and humiliating blameless ordinary people, particularly as they go about their work, in this case nursing to the sick and dying.

Julia Gillard falls over in India

Courtesy Herald Sun.

Resilience allows us to see the bigger picture, to have perspective when things go awry. We’ve all been the subject of office scuttlebutt at times, or got drunk at the Christmas party, or tripped over in full view of the world. But as adults many of us have learned to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off. And keep moving forward. Because we come to realise that one embarrassment doesn’t define our whole lives. One slip doesn’t live with us forever, no matter how much it might feel like it at the time.

The lessons we as parents must take away from the radio prank royal nurse suicide is that:

1. We can not predict how our actions will affect others so we should be more mindful of our actions.

2. Comedy is about actual humour, and being, you know, funny. There’s nothing funny, witty or clever about gotcha calls.

3. Having resilience and the ability to put things into perspective is a vital life skill.

6 comments for “Radio prank nurse suicide: any lessons to be learned?

  1. December 9, 2012 at 8:58 pm

    Thanks Felicity.
    There was also a good discussion on ABC News 24 (also shown on ABC1) – I forget the ladies name, but she really made some good points about the level of humour, but also about the radio/media needing not to just pass things by lawyers, but maybe to employ and ethicist as well.
    And perhaps to just avoid being stupid.

    • December 20, 2012 at 9:23 pm

      Hi Rachel, I think I saw the program your speaking about.
      I completely agree that a level of ethics should apply to broadcasting of any type, unfortunately I don’t think we are going to see that any time soon.

  2. Penny
    December 9, 2012 at 9:24 pm

    Interesting post Felicity. I think we need to be careful when talking about resiliance in this context as it comes very close to victim blaming. I also think the reaction by the station involved has been insulting to the victim’s family (and by that I mean the real victim, not the two dj’s who 2dayfm would have us believe are the victims here). It was an all round stupid prank and I find it amazing that no-one could “reasonably foresee” there could be consequences for the unfortunate person who took the call. It was obvious this prank would make worldwide news. Stupidity all around. Makes me wonder why anyone listens to commercial radio? Come on, the Australian public deserves better than this rubbish.

  3. December 9, 2012 at 10:36 pm

    Resilience is definitely a learned skill, some people do their best but they barely cope in very crappy situations. The whole situation is incredibly distressing and sad. People take their own lives because they honestly can’t think of any other option. It’s horrific that people arrive at such a moment in time and often everyone wonders how that happened. Resilience can’t happen without support, respect and boundaries in my opinion. We can all start with respecting the sanctity of human life and treat each other with care and respect. We can’t expect people will just bounce back from their wounds at any pace that is acceptable to others. Instant gratification is one of the biggest issues I think society is facing and I am trying my hardest to teach my kids that peace within oneself comes from working at it, not through buying things, doing something for an instant feeling etc. …. anyway rambling but those are my thoughts. thanks for the thought provoking post.

  4. Crazy Cat Lady
    December 10, 2012 at 4:39 am

    Lori from wrote an interesting blog article about this yesterday. She was saying, like you Felicity, that while the prank was not at all funny, one isolated event does not make someone commit suicide. The point that Lori made is that Jacintha probably had a lot going on in her life that was overwhelming her, and unforunately, the phone call from the 2day FM clowns was the last straw.

  5. December 10, 2012 at 9:50 pm

    Interesting, I often listen to mamamia on the radio on the way home from work… I may be wrong, but before this went badly, I’m pretty sure they played this skit and talked about it… I’m reasonably sure they thought it was funny. Mainly, it was funny that anyone would believe the bad accents, and that the DJ’s were even put through.

    As for commercial radio… compare it to Jersey Shore, which is one of the most viewed television shows of the current era. Basically, people are stupid, and if you want to make money from them, you rely on that. It pays more easily than searching for a clever (niche) audience. This from someone who can describe their job as “I read the manual and online help so that other people don’t have to.”

I would love it if you would tap out a few words here!