Teesdale Mercury addresses 'awful' 1912 suicide report

Teesdale Mercury office Image copyright Google
Image caption The Barnard Castle-based Teesdale Mercury was founded in 1854

A newspaper has addressed its "awful" reporting of a woman's suicide more than 100 years ago.

A Teesdale Mercury reader complained to the paper after finding a report in a 1912 edition on the death of 16-year-old parlour maid Dorothy Balchin.

The old report called her suicide notes "pathetic", with an inquest jury finding her "temporarily insane".

Editor Trevor Brookes said "pathetic" had a different meaning at the time, but it was good attitudes had changed.

"We agree that this is an awful way to report a tragic death of a young woman," Brookes said. But he said it would "inappropriate" to publish an apology so many years later, adding: "We must be careful not to judge the past with today's morals but instead learn from what happened."

Image copyright Teesdale Mercury
Image caption The report was published in the Teesdale Mercury in 1912

"We should be thankful attitudes have changed, and mental health, depression and suicide get the attention they so thoroughly deserve, and there are strict guidelines issued to modern media."

Suicide-prevention charity Samaritans advises today's media not to include details of method of suicide in reports, but the 1912 press cutting includes such information.

The report detailed how Ms Balchin killed herself on her employer's tennis lawn at Albury near Guildford, Surrey.

It included details of suicide notes she had written which the report called "pathetic".

"Pathetic is the adjective of pathos meaning emotion and it was once used very differently to how it is used today," said Brookes.

The Teesdale Mercury is a weekly-newspaper based in Barnard Castle, County Durham.

Brookes said the report was part of a "syndicated section" of the paper, meaning it would have appeared in similar titles across the country.

For information and support on mental health issues, the BBC has a list of relevant organisations.

The Samaritans helpline is available 24 hours a day for anyone in the UK struggling to cope. It provides a safe place to talk where calls are completely confidential.

Call 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org.

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