Responsible reporting on suicide is one of the key foundations of suicide prevention. It reduces the likelihood of imitation of suicidal behaviour, which adolescents are especially susceptible to as well as other vulnerable groups (e.g., people in distress, people with mental illnesses, people who identify with the stories that are being reported …).
On the other hand, the media can be an important source for seeking help. It can provide a range of contact information on experts and raise awareness of healthy ways to solve problems by publishing stories of people that have successfully overcame them. Contributions from the mental health field on prevention are also important in reducing the risk of suicidal behaviour.
Guidelines for the Media
Guidelines for responsible reporting of suicide were issued in 2010 targeted at journalists and editors. These guidelines were a result of a cooperative effort between organizations that deal with research and prevention of suicidal behaviour in Slovenia (issued by Institute of Public Health, 2010). The guidelines list internationally accepted methods of appropriate and less appropriate ways to report suicide. In 2010 we also conducted workshops for journalists in all the regions of Slovenia teaching responsible reporting on suicide. The formation of the guidelines was supported by the Association of Journalists of Slovenia, which is stated in its code:
A journalist may report suicide or a suicide attempt only if it is dictated by the public interest. They may indicate the causes and circumstances of the suicide or suicide attempt with caution. They should not specify the method and/or location of the incident. The identity of the person who has died or has attempted suicide is disclosed only if there is public interest. The exception to this is when reporting on historical subjects.
Summary of the guidelines for responsible reporting on suicide
- Take the opportunity to inform the public and raise awareness about the phenomenon of suicide.
- Avoid language that would sensationalize suicide or portray it as an acceptable solution to a problem.
- Avoid over exposure and unnecessary repetition of stories.
- Avoid detailed descriptions of methods of suicide or suicide attempts.
- Avoid detailed descriptions and information about the location of the suicide attempt or suicide.
- Be thoughtful when selecting titles, avoiding a sensationalistic writing style and the words “suicide” in the title.
- Carefully select photos and videos.
- Thoughtfully and carefully report celebrity suicide.
- Show concern, empathy, and respect for people mourning due to a suicide.
- Cite information about where to seek help in the case of mental distress.
- Cite general advice on ways to help.
- Write stories of people who overcame difficulties.
- Note that in stories of suicide, journalists and other media representatives may also be involved.
Respect the deceased and their relatives. The topic of suicide should never be used for the purpose of increasing numbers of readers, viewers, or listeners.
We hope that these guidelines will help solve the journalistic dilemma of reporting on this important and sensitive subject. For more information about suicide in the media and responsible journalistic reporting, please contact us.