Media advisory: Reporting on suicide

The media can play a role in suicide prevention through responsible reporting

  1. Avoid sensationalizing the death:State the facts without sensationalizing them, and without alluding to the cause of death in the headline. Avoid using photos that show any details of the act. If required, use a picture of the person from earlier times. Maintain the privacy of the bereaved.
     
  2. Avoid attributing the death to a single factor: Suicide is a complex phenomenon and is usually caused by a combination of factors. Do not minimize the cause of suicide without objective evidence. Mention that the cause may be determined only after detailed investigation, and that suicide is a complex, multifactorial phenomenon. Do not refer to suicide as a way of dealing with challenges such as relationship problems, financial troubles or failure.
     
  3. Avoid publishing the news on the front page or in the crime pages:Publishing the news on the front page sensationalizes the phenomenon, while publishing the story on the crime pages implies that suicide is ‘wrong’. Use the story along with those of other deaths or obituaries. Don’t refer to the cause of death in the headline.
     
  4. Avoid sharing detailsabout the act. Do not share the suicide note, refer to the specific methods, or preparations made, the circumstances, or the site where it occurred. The sharing of these details may increase the risk of copycat suicides.
     
  5. Avoid portraying the suicide as a symbol, a mark of protest or an expression of discontent. This may lead to images of that particular person or act being used in public discourse every time a similar issue comes up. It may also cause others in the society, who are vulnerable to a risk of suicide, to consider it for recognition or meaning. The focus should be on mourning the death of the person, and not on the manner in which they died.
     
  6. Be sensitive,particularly in the case of high-profile suicides. People identify with celebrities; their followers who are vulnerable may be at a risk of attempting suicide themselves. Others may assume that if suicide is an outlet for someone who has it all, then it may be an option for them too. Give brief information about the untimely death and mention that it may be suicide.
     
  7. Use the opportunity to educate the public about suicide:Offer information on helplines and resources for survivors of suicide. Publish stories of people who had been bereaved earlier, with emphasis on how seeking help has helped them overcome their challenges. Share information about the warning signs of suicide and how people can seek help for themselves or others.
     
  8. When in doubt,check with mental health experts and/or public health authorities before presenting facts.

 

References:

  1. Do newspaper reports of suicide comply with standard suicide reporting guidelines: http://www.nimhans.ac.in/nimhans-centre-well-being/research
  2. Preventing suicide, a resource for media professionals: http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/resource_media.pdf