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  the issue of suicide is covered but with the emphasis  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), Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE), among others.

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

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  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 information on accessing 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.

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 this 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 Dont’s for reporting on suicide in the media: 

Instead of This: Do this:
  • Big or sensationalistic headlines, or prominent placement (e.g., “Kurt Cobain Used Shotgun to Commit Suicide”).
  • Inform the audience without sensationalizing the suicide and minimize prominence (e.g., “Kurt Cobain Dead at 27”)
  • Including photos/videos of the location or method of death, grieving family, friends, memorials, or funerals.
  • Use school/work or family photo; include hotline logo or local crisis phone numbers.
  • Describing recent suicides as an “epidemic,” “skyrocketing,” or other strong terms
  • Carefully investigate the most recent CDC data and use no sensational words like ‘”rise” or “higher”
  • Describing a suicide as inexplicable or “without warning.”
  • 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.
  • “John Doe left a suicide note saying…”
  •  “A note from the deceased was found and is being reviewed by the medical examiner.”
  • Investigating and reporting on suicide similarly to reporting on crimes.
  • Report on suicide as a public health issue.
  • Quoting/interviewing police or first responders about the causes of suicide.
  • Seek advice from suicide prevention experts.
  • Referring to suicide as “successful,” “unsuccessful,” or a “failed attempt.”
  • Describe as “died by suicide,” “completed,” or “killed him/herself.”

For more information on responsible media reporting, click here.