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BeyondBlue takes aim at social media firms

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· Charlotte Dawson was battling demons

A top mental health advocate has hit out at Twitter and Instagram after TV presenter Charlotte Dawson’s death, saying they need to respond more quickly to bullying attacks on vulnerable users.

Dawson, 47, was outspoken about her depression and in 2012 publicly waged war on so-called Twitter trolls.

The New Zealand-born star was found dead in her Woolloomooloo apartment in Sydney on Saturday morning.

Amid the public outpouring of grief that followed, many on social media pointed at hateful comments directed at Dawson in recent months.

One user wrote: “Trolls that abused & tormented @MsCharlotteD, you have blood on your hands & YOU are responsible for her death- shame on you!!!”

BeyondBlue CEO Kate Carnell told AAP illnesses such as depression are usually linked to a cocktail of factors, including genes.

But she said relentless online abuse can exacerbate mental health concerns.

“With depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts – it’s always a mixture of things,” she said on Sunday.

“I don’t think we can say that it was the cyber-bullying … but putting significant extra stress on her certainly would have made things worse.”

Ms Carnell said Facebook was ahead of Twitter and Instagram in actively protecting users from bullying.

“They’ve got to find better ways to be able to respond really quickly to reports of this sort of bullying,” she said.

[polldaddy poll=7822346]Dawson’s death has hit close to home for one Tasmanian family.

Reuben Cunningham founded anti-bullying organisation Angels Goal after relentless abuse in the schoolyard and elsewhere left his teenage daughter in hospital.

Mr Cunningham told AAP that Dawson reached out to the Cunningham family in 2012 and championed their cause, and the family is devastated by her death.

“She wouldn’t have wanted to feel like she’s letting anyone down,” Mr Cunningham said on Sunday.

“That was Charlotte: beautiful person, beautiful nature.”

He wants tougher penalties introduced nationwide for anyone caught bullying, online or otherwise.

“The laws have to be changed so that Charlotte’s death isn’t in vain,” he said.

* Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 or follow @LifelineAust @OntheLineAus @kidshelp @beyondblue @headspace_aus @ReachOut_AUS on Twitter.

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