Media Guidelines For Suicide Reporting
by Kevin Caruso
Great care should be given to the way in which suicides are reported in the media. Improper reporting techniques can lead to suicide contagion (copycat suicides).
One of the best examples of suicide contagion was that of the Vienna train suicides of the 1980s. For about four years, from 1984 to 1987, several individuals died by suicide by running or jumping in front of oncoming trains. The media coverage of each suicide was sensational and extensive, and caused numerous “copycat” suicides.
Finally, in 1987, a campaign was launched to alter the way the media reported the suicides. The result of the campaign was dramatic – suicides and attempted suicides dropped by over 80% after only six months.
Thus, the way suicides are reported in the media can either CAUSE suicides or PREVENT suicide.
Suicide.org offers guidelines for reporting on suicide that will assist members of the media in writing stories that will help prevent suicides. These guidelines include:
Minimize coverage of suicides. Keep the stories relatively brief and do not run too many stories. But it is important to run stories!
ALWAYS provide suicide prevention information with suicide stories. This is CRITICAL.
Mention that Suicide.org is available 24 hours a day for anyone who is suicidal.
(Reporters may use any of the information on the Suicide.org website in their stories in order to help prevent suicides, promote suicide awareness, and offer support for survivors.)
And also provide the national suicide hotline numbers, which are 1-800-SUICIDE and 1-800-273-TALK. And consider providing local suicide hotline numbers. A list of suicide hotlines may be found on Suicide.org here: Suicide Hotlines (If you are outside of the United States, please provide the hotlines for your country, state, province, or local area.)
Let people know that anyone who is suicidal can call these number tool free, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The 1-800-SUICIDE number is particularly easy to remember.
So a statement like the following can SAVE LIVES:
Anyone who is suicidal may receive immediate help by logging onto Suicide.org or by calling 1-800-SUICIDE. Suicide is preventable, and if you are feeling suicidal, you must get help. So please visit Suicide.org or call 1-800-SUICIDE immediately.
Feel free to use the above statement verbatim in you coverage. Or alter it in a way that would be best for your story.
Emphasize that suicide can be prevented if people get help. This is another EXTEMELY important point – people who are suicidal MUST get immediate help. And the help that they need may be found on Suicide.org. (Again, reporters may use any of the information on Suicide.org in their stories. Please do not hesitate to use information from Suicide.org – it is here to help everyone, including reporters.)
Emphasize the number one cause for suicide:
The number one cause for suicide is untreated depression.
And then indicate that depression is treatable, and thus anyone suffering from depression needs to receive IMMEDIATE help.
Do not hesitate to talk about suicide in stories. But ALWAYS do so in a way that provides help, hope, and resources for the suicidal and suicide survivors. Again, let people know that Suicide.org is available 24 hours a day.
There is a strong stigma associated with suicide, so it MUST be talked about. Sensitive articles about suicide can help REDUCE this stigma; but please be EXTREMELY careful about how you talk about it and how you cover stories about suicide.
Do not begin a television newscast with a suicide story.
Do not place suicide stories on the cover of newspapers or magazines.
Do not sensationalize suicides.
Do not romanticize suicides.
Never portray suicides as heroic.
Never say that a suicide “ended pain” or “ended suffering.” Suicide CAUSES excruciating pain for suicide survivors.
Also, people need to be alive to feel relief from pain. Suicide CAUSES pain.
Be careful about describing the methods used. Do not go into great detail about the methods, and do not show detailed pictures of the locations where the suicides occurred.
Do not say suicides occur because of one event. (Suicides rarely occur because of one event.)
Be careful with the wordings of headlines.
Be careful with all of the words that are used in the story.
Do not use the terms “successful suicide” or “committed suicide.” Use the term “died by suicide” instead.
The term “committed suicide” is NOT accurate and is VERY hurtful to those who have attempted suicide and to suicide survivors. Say “died by suicide.”
DO NOT say “committed suicide” say “died by suicide.”
People commit crimes. Suicide is not a crime. Period. Unfortunately, the expression “committed suicide” is ubiquitous, but YOU can help turn the tide by saying “died by suicide.”
Also, do not use the term “successful suicide.” Instead say “died by suicide.” It is extremely insensitive and entirely inaccurate to label a suicide as “successful.”
Do not use the term “failed suicide.” Use the term “attempted suicide” instead.
Do not use the word “epidemic” in suicide stories. If suicide rates are rising, use the word “rising.” If they are falling, use the word “falling.”
Again, explain why people die by suicide. Use facts like these:
The number one cause for suicide is untreated depression.
Over 90% of the people who die by suicide have clinical depression or a similar mental illness when they die.
And then tell them that depression and similar disorders are treatable; thus anyone who believes that they are suffering from depression or something similar needs to receive immediate help.
Again, offer suicide prevention information to the public with the story, which should include telling them that Suicide.org is available to them 24 hours a day, and then provide suicide hotline numbers.
I cannot over overemphasize how important it is to ALWAYS provide people with suicide prevention information so they can receive help IMMEDIATELY after seeing your story.
Again, always give the name of this website – Suicide.org – in the story; and let people know that there is EXTENSIVE help for them at Suicide.org – and that Suicide.org is available to them 24 hours a day. And provide suicide hotline numbers.
Suicide.org is the largest suicide prevention, awareness, and support website in the world, and was carefully designed to allow suicidal individuals to get immediate, life-saving help; but they cannot receive help if they do not know about the site.
Also stress that suicide in never the answer.
Feel free to use the extremely important statement that Kevin Caruso uses. (Kevin Caruso is the founder, executive director, and editor-in-chief of Suicide.org.) And that statement is:
Suicide is never the answer. Getting help is the answer.
Suicide contagion is very real and very serious, and we should all do our part try to minimize it.
And, most importantly, we should give people who are suicidal resources they can use IMMEDIATELY to get help. And that is one of the primary reasons that Suicide.org is online – to give the suicidal IMMEDIATE help, options, and hope via the extensive resources on the site.
So, remember to inform people that there are extensive resources for suicidal individuals at Suicide.org.
Also, stories should be written to SUPPORT suicide survivors and provide them with help and hope. In every story about suicide survivors, the resources for suicide survivors on Suicide.org should be mentioned, which include extensive listings of suicide support groups and articles.
Keep in mind that many suicide survivors suffer from severe clinical depression and are faced with a myriad of other challenges and oftentimes become suicidal themselves.
Suicide survivors also should be mentioned with the objective of helping them, supporting them, and providing them with resources and hope.
There should be MORE stories about suicide survivors and MORE stories about suicide, but the emphasis should ALWAYS be on suicide prevention, awareness, and support.
And Suicide.org is available 24 hours a day to anyone in the media. Feel free to use information and resources on the site to help prevent suicides, help support suicide survivors, and help promote suicide awareness.
Founder, Executive Director, Editor-in-Chief