The way the media talks about suicide matters

Media reporting on suicides can affect the likelihood of the suicide contagion (or “copycat”) phenomenon.  There are a number of organizations that have put together media guidelines for reporting on suicides, and this is a summary of some of their recommendations.

Do’s:

  • include local crisis line information and other community resources
  • include warning signs and information about what to do
  • report on suicide as a public health issue
  • get information from suicide prevention experts
  • use the terms “died by suicide”, “completed suicide” or “killed him/herself”
  • look for links to broader social issues
  • if possible provider education the links between suicide and other issues such as mental illness and substance misuse
  • avoid the use of language that normalizes suicide or presents it as a solution to problems
  • word headlines carefully, and avoid using the word “suicide”
  • be particularly careful when reporting celebrity suicides
  • avoid printing a photo of the person who completed suicide, and if one is used it should not be displayed prominently

 

Don’ts:

  • don’t use sensationalist headlines
  • don’t use prominent placement (e.g. front page) or undue repetition
  • don’t use photos of the location/method of death, grieving friends/family
  • don’t describe a suicide as inexplicable or without warning
  • don’t quote/interview first responders about cause of suicide
  • don’t describe suicide as “successful” or “unsuccessful”/”failed”
  • don’t report specific details of the method
  • don’t offer over-simplified reasons for the suicide
  • don’t romanticize the suicide
  • don’t present a melodramatic depiction of suicide or its after-effects on others
  • don’t label certain locations as “hot spots” for suicide
  • don’t use hyperbolic descriptions like “suicide epidemic”
  • don’t publish suicide notes

 

Sources:

 

There’s also a fillable safety plan available on the Mental Health @ Home Store.

Share this:

21 thoughts on “The way the media talks about suicide matters

  1. Meg says:

    That is really interesting. I’ve lived my life avoiding any sort of televised news reports. It’s all too upsetting and blatantly sensational. I don’t even want to give examples of news stories because then I’d be equally guilty. But whenever I’m downstairs and the news comes on, I glower at my dad until he changes the channel. (He’ll put it on to see the weather forecasts.) And I’m not being overly dramatic. I was pretty upset five or six days ago by what I overheard from the news in the ten seconds before he switched to the other network’s weather report. It’s so far beyond what I can expose myself to that it’s hard to believe anyone watches, much less for the whole broadcast, much less every day.

    Anyway, I bet the media follows these guidelines in order to avoid liability, because it’s hard to imagine that they care, or anything like that. They love shock value. It probably kills them that they can’t be explicit about suicides and their accompanying details.

    • ashleyleia says:

      I think probably some media outlets care more than others about being ethical in their reporting. Sensationalism certainly sells, although perhaps to varying extents. I get the sense that in general Canadian news media is somewhat less sensationalistic than American media.

  2. updownflight says:

    I’m glad you put these lists together. I agree with Meg that it was useful and interesting to read. Your bullet points made a lot of sense.

    It concerns me how celebrity suicides are so emphasized, while the many many suicides of less known (or unknown) people are barely mentioned. The thought sometimes passes my mind that some people may think that if a celebrity feels their life is not worth living, then others’ are even less so. That is so untrue and is dangerous.

    I like the suggestions about the best terms to describe suicide. Actually, my husband and I were discussing this only about a month ago. We had a beef with the word “commit” that is so often used with the word suicide. My husband, a Czech, says the equivalent word in Czech is used with the word suicide, too. We think “commit” is too harsh and implies a sinful action, kind of like “committing a crime”.

    • ashleyleia says:

      I agree that the emphasis on celebrity suicide is really problematic, and just not productive at all. And I think the phrasing “commit suicide” has been used for so long that most people don’t even think about the connotations of the word commit.

  3. wellcolourmeyellow says:

    look for links to broader social issues
    I can’t even begin to talk about how much I agree with that. It’s so important to really delve into the bigger picture.
    don’t report specific details of the method
    Also really resonate with this point. I always find it just so unsettling to read stuff like that.

    This was a really important topic and i’m happy to see how well you’ve covered it, great job!

  4. BeckiesMentalMess.wordpress.com says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more on all the listings of “Don’t.” I find that the more the news media rants about it, it triggers people to consider it, or even the way of committing suicide. The whole situation with them sharing this information is so damaging.

  5. s.e. taylor says:

    The media coverage can be very triggering for me. I’m doing better at trying to stay away from it. It shocks me when they report the details of the method. Not only is it so triggering, it feels like it’s such an invasion of the family’s privacy. There is just no need to include those details in the reporting.

  6. vnhi says:

    I never gave this much thought until I was on the high school paper years and years ago. An alumnus passed away (apparent suicide) and although we wanted us to write about the unfortunate even, the teacher that oversaw the paper sat us down and spoke to us very much so along these lines. It made so much sense to me even as a high schooler, and I’m always appalled by how the media constantly sensationalizes celebrity suicides (and drug-related deaths).

Leave a Reply