I cringe most times I read news articles that are reporting a suicide death. In many cases, they are celebrity deaths being reported. The ways that we communicate about suicide and mental health makes a huge difference, and there are guidelines that should be followed.
There are facts that show that risk of suicide increase after a high profile death by suicide. This is especially true when the story is released and explicitly describes the suicide method or sensationalizes the death. The way that many media outlets report on suicide is dangerous and needs to be changed.
A majority of my training has focused on shaping my personal suicide loss story into a safe and effective story about prevention and hope. Whenever I write about suicide, I check back on the Suicide Prevention Resource Center and follow their list of guidelines for Safe and Effective Messaging.
I think this is a resource that should be used by all reporters and people interested in writing about a suicide loss or suicide prevention. This list focuses on “The Do’s and Don’ts”.. This list helps guide you and asses your story for the appropriateness of the content. Here are a few examples..
The Do’s—Practices that may be helpful in public awareness campaigns:
- Do emphasize help-seeking and provide information on finding help. When recommending mental health treatment, provide concrete steps for finding help. Inform people that help is available through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK ) and through established local service providers and crisis centers.
- Do emphasize prevention. Reinforce the fact that there are preventative actions individuals can take if they are having thoughts of suicide or know others who are or might be. Emphasize that suicides are preventable and should be prevented to the extent possible.
The Don’ts—Practices that may be problematic in public awareness campaigns:
- Don’t glorify or romanticize suicide or people who have died by suicide. Vulnerable people, especially young people, may identify with the attention and sympathy garnered by someone who has died by suicide.10 They should not be held up as role models.
- Don’t present overly detailed descriptions of suicide victims or methods of suicide.Research shows that pictures or detailed descriptions of how or where a person died by suicide can be a factor in vulnerable individuals imitating the act. Clinicians believe the danger is even greater if there is a detailed description of the method.
Click this link to read the full list of recommendations.. I believe that it is a responsibility to ensure that safe and effective messaging is followed.
Now, I am not saying that we shouldn’t talk about it. Talking about suicide and mental health is how we will begin to end the stigma around it. But there is a way to talk about it to prevent further suicide deaths and share important lifesaving resources.
More useful information about safe reporting can be found on the website for Reporting on Suicide.