Suicide is a major public health concern and is therefore a subject that is very much in the public interest.
While sensitive reporting can inform and educate the public about suicide and the signs to look out for, there is strong and consistent research evidence that some forms of news reporting lead to increases in suicide rates.
Media coverage can influence how people behave in a crisis and their beliefs about the options open to them. The research shows that certain types of media depictions, such as explicitly describing a method and sensational and excessive coverage, can lead to imitational suicidal behaviour among vulnerable people.
The Samaritans have published useful media guidelines for reporting suicide.
10 things to remember when reporting suicide
- Avoid reporting methods of suicide in articles, such as describing someone as having died by hanging, particularly in headlines.
- Include references to suicide being preventable and signpost sources of support, such as Samaritans’ helpline. This can encourage people to seek help, which could save lives. When life is difficult, Samaritans are here – day or night, 365 days a year. You can call them for free on 116 123, email them at email@example.com, or visit www.samaritans.org to find your nearest branch.
- Avoid dramatic headlines and strong terms such as ‘suicide epidemic’. Never suggest that someone died instantly or that their death was quick, easy, painless, inevitable or a solution to their problems. Steer clear of language that sensationalises or glorifies suicide.
- Don’t refer to a specific site or location as popular or known for suicides, for example, ‘notorious site’ or ‘hot spot’ and refrain from providing information, such as the height of a bridge or cliff.
- Avoid dramatic, emotive or sensational pictures or video footage. Excessive imagery can glamourise a death and lead vulnerable individuals to over-identify with the deceased.
- Avoid excessive amounts of coverage and overly prominent placement of stories, such as a front page splash or making it a lead story, and do not link to previous stories about suicide.
- Treat social media with particular caution and avoid mentioning or linking to comments, or websites/forums that promote or glamourise suicide. Similarly, it is safer not to open comments sections on suicide stories and careful consideration should be given around the appropriateness of promoting stories through push notifications.
- Including content from suicide notes or similar messages left by a person who has died should be avoided. They can increase the likelihood of people identifying with the deceased. It may also romanticise a suicide or cause distress to the bereaved family and friends.
- Speculation about the ‘trigger’ or cause of a suicide can oversimplify the issue and should be avoided. Suicide is extremely complex and most of the time there is no single event or factor that leads someone to take their own life.
- Young people are more susceptible to suicide contagion. When covering the death of a young person, do not give undue prominence to the story or repeat the use of photographs, including galleries. Don’t use emotive, romanticised language or images – a sensitive, factual approach is much safer. Coverage that reflects the wider issues around suicide, including that it is preventable, can help reduce the risk of suicidal behaviour. Include clear and direct references to resources and support organisations