Media

Media

How suicide is portrayed in the media is very important, as insensitive reporting could lead to additional suicide attempts or deaths. Several efforts have been made to develop guidelines and recommendations to assist media with appropriate reporting so that the issue of suicide is covered but the emphasis is on seeking help and providing hope for those that may be struggling.

The Recommendations for Media Reporting on Suicide was developed by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE), among others and is available at http://reportingonsuicide.org/.

The recommendations were developed by a group of suicide prevention experts, researchers and journalists and are based on more than 50 research studies. Included in the recommendations is advice for online journalists including bloggers and message board forums.

Another collaborative resource effort available through the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC), Reporting on Suicide: Recommendations for the Media, discusses the powerful role of the media  and how their responsible reporting can help to prevent additional suicides. This includes the best terminology to use in reporting, as well as guidelines for not romanticizing or glamorizing the suicide death, which can lead to copycat suicidal behavior.

Social networking sites are sometimes used to memorialize those who die by suicide. As such, they need to be monitored for harmful content so that those viewers who may be struggling with suicide themselves are not receiving unintended messages that may exacerbate their problems or encourage similar actions. These sites should include referral resources and how to access help, as well as providing messages of hope. As an example, when someone on Facebook sees a friend post a suicidal comment they can report the person to Facebook using the Report Suicidal Content link or the report links found throughout the site.

If you are in a position to be interviewed by the media regarding suicide  or other issues, here are a few helpful tips to keep in mind:

Media Interview Techniques & Tips

The Four “BEs”:

  • Be Prepared
  • Be Quotable
  • Be an Educator
  • Be in Control

K.I.S.S. – Keep it simple and stick with the message you want to convey.

Flag – Use language and your voice to alert the audience to what you are about to say (“This next point is particularly important….”)

Bridge – Stay in control of and guide the dialogue (“Let me also add…”, or “I think the more important issue is….”)

Hook – Get your message out by providing more information than asked or to follow up (“There are two important aspects to that answer. The first is…”)

 

More than 50 research studies worldwide have found that certain types of news coverage can increase the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable individuals. The magnitude of the increase is related to the amount, duration, and prominence of coverage.

Risk of additional suicides increases when the story explicitly describes the suicide method, uses dramatic/graphic headlines or images, and repeated/extensive coverage sensationalizes or glamorizes a death. ​Suicide Contagion, or “Copycat Suicide,” occurs when one or more suicides are reported in a way that contributes to another suicide.

Covering suicide carefully, even briefly, can change public misperceptions and correct myths, which can encourage those who are vulnerable or at risk to seek help.

 

Do’s and Don’ts

Instead of This

  • Big or sensationalistic headlines, or prominent placement (e.g., “Kurt Cobain Used Shotgun to Commit Suicide”).

Do This

  • Inform the audience without sensationalizing the suicide and minimize prominence (e.g., “Kurt Cobain Dead at 27”).

 

Instead of This

  • Including photos/videos of the location or method of death, grieving family, friends, memorials, or funerals.

Do This

  • Use school/work or family photo; include hotline logo or local crisis phone numbers.

 

Instead of This

  • Describing recent suicides as an “epidemic,” “skyrocketing,” or other strong terms

Do This

  • Carefully investigate the most recent CDC data and use nonsensational words like ‘”rise” or “higher”

 

Instead of This

  • Describing a suicide as inexplicable or “without warning.”

Do This

  • Most, but not all, people who die by suicide exhibit warning signs. Include the “Warning Signs” and “What to Do” sidebar in your article if possible.

 

Instead of This

  • “John Doe left a suicide note saying…”

Do This

  • “A note from the deceased was found and is being reviewed by the medical examiner.”

 

Instead of This

  • Investigating and reporting on suicide similarly to reporting on crimes.

Do This

  • Report on suicide as a public health issue.

 

Instead of This

  • Quoting/interviewing police or first responders about the causes of suicide.

Do This

  • Seek advice from suicide prevention experts.

 

Instead of This

  • Referring to suicide as “successful,” “unsuccessful,” or a “failed attempt.”

Do This

  • Describe as “died by suicide,” “completed,” or “killed him/herself.”