Media portrayals of suicide, in the news as well as entertainment media, have been associated with increases in suicide, in other cline particularly amongst undergraduate university students. This study examined how the media has influenced the rate of suicide among undergraduates in public universities, be it positively or negatively. The study adopted survey research design methods. The study employed structured questionnaire to collect data from students in the selected universities under study. Stratified sampling technique was used in selecting the sample of the study. The data collected were analysed using descriptive statistics of frequency, percentage and mean and regression. The result of the analysis revealed that media has not portrayed the society in its reality. The study also revealed that the media has negative influence on undergraduates and it has increased the rate of suicide among undergraduates. The study revealed also that media, family problems, academic pressure, societal pressure, financial pressure and the flamboyant display of wealth are factors that influence the rate of suicide among undergraduates in public universities. The study recommends that there has to be adequate efforts to ensure that media and internet sites that promote and enhance effective coping with hopelessness and suicide ideation” are directed at undergraduate students.
1.1 BACKGROUND TO STUDY
Media are channels of communication that aid the dissemination of news, information, education, entertainment, data, or promotional messages. A medium (singular of media) is a ‘channel of communication’. That is, a means by which people are able to send and receive information. Take for example in the printed media where words printed in a newspaper or magazine communicate something to us in some ways. Likewise, electronic forms of communication such as television, telephones, films and the likes also have imbibed messages that are consciously and unconsciously assimilated by the audience.
Therefore, mass media is any transmission of information that reaches large numbers of people, usually within a short time frame in a one-to-many communication flow. The information transmitted could be news, entertainment, advertising or public service announcements. (Heidi Thorne, 2019)
Media Portrayal simply put is the ability of the media to influence people’s perception on things in the society and even the society itself at large, be it negative or positive. The mass media being an agent of socialization are accorded the power of constructing ‘meaning’ that is disseminated to the general public.
According to Meaning Theory of Media Portrayal proposed by Melvin DeFleur and Timothy Plax in 1980, they formulated the meaning theory of communication that talks about how media shape messages and what that means for social conduct. The influence of media portrayal cannot be undermined as the mass media plays a vital role in shaping how we think, act, talk and even live our lives. Just as DeFleur and Plax stated, the meanings decoded from media messages not only shape human behaviour but also how the society functions as this dictates what is acceptable (right) or not acceptable (wrong). “Media portrayals of the world create the culture; as public behaviour is manipulated around what people observe in the media.” (Bartleby Research, 2015, p. 1)
Furthermore, according to the World Health Organization (WHO, 2019) suicide is the act of deliberately killing oneself. Suicide is a tragic occurrence in our world as every year nearly 800,000 lives are lost and there are many more people who attempt suicide yet still. For young people under the age of 25, suicide is among the three leading causes of death. The effect of suicide is a long lasting one. “Suicide occurs throughout the lifespan and was the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year-olds globally in 2016.” (WHO, 2019, para. 1)
Suicide is a serious prevailing public health problem. Nevertheless, they are preventable. Mass media messages serve as vehicles of communication. As already stated above, the power and influence of the media on the societies is growing stronger and stronger as the day goes by. It is important to look into how the media portray our society and how that has influenced the rate of suicide as a whole but particularly among the undergraduates in public universities in Nigeria.
Public universities in Nigeria are known for the freedom it permits. The unlimited access to the internet, social media, broadcast media and the likes, unlike private universities where undergraduates are quite restricted in their freedom. There are some private universities that do not even allow their undergraduate students make use of hand phones. Asides this, there is a larger control of the movement and behaviour of the students in private universities compared to public universities.
Media messages always portray a meaning to its audience. The society or rather, the environment the audience resides also has an impact on how the message is interpreted and their reactions to it. (Salawu, 2007) Therefore, it is possible that the media through its messages and graphics has its influence on the rate of suicide, be it positive or negative.
1.2 STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
Media portrayals of suicide, in the news as well as entertainment media, have been associated with increases in suicide, in other cline particularly amongst the young (Hawton, 2002; Gould, Jamieson, & Romer, 2003; Gould, 1990; Pirkis, 2001; Stack, 2003) as cited in Arnold (2003). The increasing rate of this demeanour in Nigeria among undergraduates is alarming and it is yet to be established if the media portrayal of the society is responsible for the act; and this is the thrust which the research study wants to find out.
The media being a strong agent of socialization has a large influence on the behaviour and beliefs of those in the society. “Children and teens are just as likely to use different types of media as adults, but the effects may be very different. The biggest difference between how media use affects children and youth versus how it affects adults is largely tied to development.” (Arnold, 2003, para. 1)
Youths form their attitudes, morals and values that shape their lives at the earliest developmental stages of their lives. The frequency with which certain types of media productions and messages are viewed also differs to how individuals interpret them.
Therefore, the impact of the media on youths is a question of how much exposure they have and to what type of media. Thus, the way the media portray the society is a determinant on the attitudes and actions of individuals. People in general tend to view their lives based on what they see through the media. Our successes, achievements and even our downfalls are on a continuum as we constantly compare it to that of others we barely know or who know us. Could this be one of the biggest reasons for the increase in suicidal thoughts and suicide as an endpoint? Can the rate of suicidal attempts, both successful and failed attempts be as a result of what the media portrays as acceptable and ‘perfect’ to those who cannot attain this level?
Hence, this study aims at analysing and investigating how the media has influenced the rate of suicide among undergraduates in public universities, be it positively or negatively. Also to find out if there is any relationship between media messages and the rate of suicide.
1.3 OBJECTIVES OF STUDY
The objectives of this study are:
- To find out how the media portray the society in the eyes of undergraduates in public universities.
- To investigate the influences of the media on undergraduates in public universities.
- To examine the extent at which the media has influenced the rate of suicide among undergraduates.
- To identify the factors that influence the rate of suicide among undergraduates in public universities.
- To identify whether the media has positively influenced (reduced) or negatively influenced (increased) the rate of suicide among undergraduates in public universities.
1.4 RESEARCH QUESTIONS
Based on the problem statement, the following research questions are raised to guide the study:
RQ1: How does the media portray the society in the eyes of undergraduates in public universities?
RQ2: What are the influences of the media on undergraduates in public universities?
RQ3: How does the media influence the rate of suicide among undergraduates?
RQ4: What are the factors that influence the rate of suicide among undergraduates in public universities?
RQ5: Does the media reduce or increase the rate of suicide among undergraduates in public universities?
1.5 RESEARCH HYPOTHESIS
Dependent Variable (DV): Rate of suicide among undergraduates
Independent Variable (IV): The influence of the media
Hypothesis 1: The media have significant effect on the rate of suicide among undergraduates
This can be stated in the Null and Alternate hypotheses format thus:
H10: The media have no impact on the rate of suicide among undergraduates.
H1A: The media have an impact on the rate of suicide among undergraduates.
Hypothesis 2: The influence of the media increases the rate of suicide among undergraduates
H20: The influence of the media decreases the rate of suicide among undergraduate
H2A: The rate of suicide among undergraduate increases due to the influence of the media.
1.6 SCOPE OF THE STUDY
This study would focus on the media and how it influences the rate of suicide among undergraduates in public universities. For the purpose of this research, social media and a few selected television programmes will be the focus of the type of media.
The study will also focus on youths between the ages 16-30 as suicide and suicidal behaviours seem to be more in this group, majority of who are found in universities especially public universities. Therefore, the study will be conducted in four selected public universities in Nigeria: University of Lagos, University of Ibadan, Obafemi Awolowo University and Federal University of Technology, Akure. These public universities were selected due to their prominence in the educational sector in Nigeria and large population of undergraduates available to ensure a wide range of response from a diversity of individuals from various backgrounds.
1.7 SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY
The study seeks to examine the relationship between the media and the society and its influence on the behaviour of the habitants of the society. The goal of this study is to examine how media messages which help to shape our society influence the rate of suicide among the youths, specifically undergraduates in public universities. It will help examine the influences of media exposure on the lives of undergraduates. The study will help students learn to filter media messages which may cause a rise in the rate of suicide.
Furthermore, the study will help to determine whether the influence of the media reduces or increases the rate of suicide among undergraduates. Also, the research will be relevant to other scholars in form of, enquiry and reference materials on this subject matter. Moreover, it would be an addition to the knowledge of scholars and personnel in the media. This will help the media better understand how its construction of meaning portrays the society and how great of an impact it has on the lives of individuals.
1.8 LIMITATIONS TO THE STUDY
Delayed till after the study to have accuracy in the information provided.
1.9 DEFINITION OF TERMS
The terms explained below would have the meanings ascribed to them in this study:
- 1. MEDIA: Media is the plural form of medium, which (broadly speaking) describes any channel of communication. This can include anything from printed paper to digital data, and encompasses art, news, educational content and numerous other forms of information.
- 2. PORTRAYAL: A description of someone or something in a particular way; a representation.
- SOCIETY: A collectivity, united by certain interaction, possessing common values for regulating their interaction. For the sake of this study, a community in the public university connotes the society.
- 4. INFLUENCE: The ability or capacity for things or people to be a driving force behind the actions, attitude, beliefs, opinions, etc., of others.
- 5. SUICIDE: Suicide is the act of taking one’s life, usually due to depression or a mental illness.
- 6. UNDERGRADUATE: A university or college student who is studying to receive his/her bachelor’s degree.
- 7. PUBLIC UNIVERSITY: A university owned by the state or federal government and is run through the use of public funds.