Some suicide deaths may be newsworthy, however, it has been acknowledged that the way media covers suicide can influence behavior negatively by contributing to contagion or positively by encouraging help-seeking. Think about reporting on suicide as a health issue, not just in response to a recent death.
As a global website, GV can have a huge impact on people's decision to take their lives or not, and I hope we all agree we would rather having them keeping their lives.
Although culturally speaking, talking about suicide may differ from country to country, GV is a global website catering for the whole word, so we need to be very extra careful when bringing ultra sensitive issues like this to a global audience.
Many convincing pieces of research that shows people are affected by how suicide is reported or depicted, both in news and fiction. If the reporting glamourises and/or banalises it – depressed people living at risk can take news as endorsement to support their decision to take their lives. According to the World Health Organisation:
Suicide is perhaps the most tragic way of ending one’s life. The majority of people who consider suicide are ambivalent. They are not sure that they want to die. One of the many factors that may lead a vulnerable individual to suicide could be publicity about suicides in the media. How the media report on suicide cases can influence other suicides.
Clinicians and researchers acknowledge that it is not news coverage of suicide per se, but certain types of news coverage, that increase suicidal behaviour in vulnerable populations. Conversely, certain types of coverage may help to prevent imitation of the suicidal behaviour. Nevertheless, there is always the possibility that publicity about suicide might make the idea of suicide seem “normal”. Repeated and continual coverage of suicide tends to induce and promote suicidal preoccupations, particularly among adolescents and young adults.
Also according to the World Health Organisation:
Sensational coverage of suicides should be assiduously avoided, particularly when a celebrity is involved. The coverage should be minimized to the extent possible. Any mental health problem the celebrity may have had should also be acknowledged. Every effort should be made to avoid overstatement. Photographs of the deceased, of the method used and of the scene of the suicide are to be avoided. Front page headlines are never the ideal location for suicide reports.
Reporting, however, can also be used to raise awareness and promote suicide prevention. Websites like Samaritans, Reporting on Suicide and Suicide.org have a lot of information for reporters working on suicide stories to help them do it in a way that will help prevent suicides.
Reporting Suicide on Global Voices
If you decide to write a post, you must adhere to the above mentioned. Also:
- Add hyperlinks to sources of support to ensure that people in distress can access useful resources quickly.
- Add the following statement to the end of your post using the “notes” style:
The number one cause for suicide is untreated depression. Depression is treatable and suicide is preventable. You can get help from confidential support lines for the suicidal and those in emotional crisis. Visit Befrienders.org to find a suicide prevention helpline in your country.
- When translating a post about a suicide, localise the statement above to include more specific suicide prevention information available in your language/country.
- Right after publication, repeat the national suicide prevention lifeline information in the first comment box and close the post for public commentary.
Dos and Don'ts
Below is a quick ‘do and don't’ list put together by World Health Organisation, which you should follow if you decide to go ahead with a news piece about a suicide case.
- Work closely with health authorities in presenting the facts
- Refer to suicide as a completed suicide, not a successful one
- Present only relevant data, on the inside pages
- Highlight alternatives to suicide
- Provide information on helplines and community resources
- Publicize risk indicators and warning signs
- Publish photographs or suicide notes
- Report specific details of the method used
- Give simplistic reasons
- Glorify or sensationalize suicide
- Use religious or cultural stereotypes
- Apportion blame
We can also reduce the type of language that may increase suicide risk. Samaritans advises the use of phrases such as:
- A suicide
- Die by suicide
- Take one’s own life
- A suicide attempt
- A completed suicide
- Person at risk of suicide
- Help prevent suicide
And avoiding phrases such as:
- A successful suicide attempt
- An unsuccessful suicide attempt
- Commit suicide. (Suicide is now decriminalised so it is better not to talk about ‘committing suicide’ but use ‘take one's life’, or ‘die by suicide’ instead.)
- Suicide victim
- Just a cry for help
- Suicide-prone person
- Stop the spread/epidemic of suicide
- Suicide ‘tourist’