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Suicide: Responsible Media Reporting Guidelines

Certain ways of presenting and portraying suicide in the media appear to precipitate suicidal behaviour in vulnerable people. This evidence has led many countries to develop media guidelines for reporting and portraying suicide.

Avoid presenting simplistic explanations for suicide.
Suicide usually results from a complex set of circumstances and is seldom the result of a single event such as the loss of a job or the end of a relationship.

Do not engage in repetitive, prominent, or excessive reporting of suicide.
This may promote and maintain a preoccupation with suicide among at-risk individuals. For example, suicide reports should be located on an inside page of a newspaper, never as a front-page headline.

Be careful not to sensationalize coverage.
Sensational news coverage of a suicide tends to heighten the general public’s preoccupation with suicide, particularly when a celebrity is involved. For example, sensational coverage can be minimized by avoiding the use of dramatic photographs.

Avoid “how-to” descriptions of suicide.
It is also thought that technical details about the method of suicide used in a particular incidence may provide a vulnerable person with the knowledge they need to imitate the actions of the victim.

Do not position a suicide as a means to solve problems.
Presenting suicide as a means of dealing with personal problems may suggest that suicide is an acceptable coping strategy.

Avoid glorifying the incident or the victim.
Prominent coverage of community expressions of grief (e.g., eulogies, memorials, flags at half-mast) may suggest that society is honouring the suicidal behaviour of the victim, rather than mourning the person’s death.

Avoid overemphasizing the victim’s positive characteristics.
It is important to note the victim’s problems in addition to the positive aspects of his or her life in order to decrease the attractiveness of the suicidal behaviour, especially for individuals who rarely receive positive reinforcement.

Treat survivors with sensitivity and respect their privacy.
Immediately following a death by suicide, grieving family members and friends are in shock, have difficulty understanding what happened, and may be at heightened risk of suicide themselves. Care and consideration should always be shown when interviewing close family and friends of the victim.

Provide information that increases public awareness.
Enhancing general public awareness about suicide risk factors, warning signs, and possible actions to assist a suicidal person can help friends and family members recognize suicidal risk in a vulnerable person.

List available community resources.
Information on available resources (help lines, crisis services, and clinical services) with up-to-date contact information should always be included in media stories dealing with suicide.

Feature stories about people who adopted life-affirming options.
Stories that present positive ways of coping and positive roles models can help prevent further suicide attempts.

Source: “Building Awareness-Reducing Risk: Mental Illness and Suicide, “World Mental Health Day Project, 2006 Global Education Packet, www.wfmh.org

 

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