Preventing Suicide – A Resource for Media Professionals

by World Health Organization and International Association for Suicide Prevention
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Suicide is a serious public health problem that demands our attention, but its prevention and control, unfortunately, are no easy task. State-of-the-art research indicates that the prevention of suicide, while feasible, involves a whole series of activities, ranging from the provision of the best possible conditions for bringing up our children and youth, through the effective treatment of mental disorders, to the environmental control of risk factors.  Appropriate dissemination of information and awareness-raising are essential elements in the success of suicide prevention programmes.

In 1999 WHO launched SUPRE, its worldwide initiative for the prevention of suicide. This booklet is the revised version of one of a series of resources prepared as part of SUPRE which are addressed to specific social and professional groups that are particularly relevant to the prevention of suicide. The revised booklet is the product of a continuing collaboration between WHO and the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP). It represents a link in a long and diversified chain involving a wide range of people and groups, including health professionals, educators, social agencies, governments, legislators, social communicators, law enforcers, families and communities.

Quick reference for media professionals;

• Take the opportunity to educate the public about suicide
• Avoid language which sensationalizes or normalizes suicide, or presents it as a solution to problems
• Avoid prominent placement and undue repetition of stories about suicide
• Avoid explicit description of the method used in a completed or attempted suicide
• Avoid providing detailed information about the site of a completed or attempted suicide
• Word headlines carefully
• Exercise caution in using photographs or video footage
• Take particular care in reporting celebrity suicides
• Show due consideration for people bereaved by suicide
• Provide information about where to seek help
• Recognize that media professionals themselves may be affected by stories about suicide

Suicide is a major public health problem, with far-reaching social, emotional and economic consequences. There are approximately one million suicides a year worldwide, and it is estimated that around six people are affected by each death.

The factors contributing to suicide and its prevention are complex and not fully understood, but there is evidence that the media plays a significant role. On the one hand, vulnerable individuals may be influenced to engage in imitative behaviours by reports of suicide, particularly if the coverage is extensive, prominent, sensationalist and/or explicitly describes the method of suicide. On the other hand, responsible reporting may serve to educate the public about suicide, and may encourage those at risk of suicide to seek help.

This resource briefly summarizes the evidence on the impact of media reporting of suicide, and, using this evidence, provides a resource for media professionals about how to report on suicide. It encourages caution in reporting suicide. It recognizes that there are times when a suicide will need to be reported on the grounds of its newsworthiness. It makes suggestions about how best to ensure that such reporting is accurate, responsible and ethical.

The resource acknowledges that reporting of suicide differs within and across countries. There are cultural differences in terms of what is appropriate to report and how information about a given suicide is accessed. This resource is designed to provide general guidance, but media professionals are encouraged to work with their own suicide prevention community and to draw on local guidelines wherever possible.

The resource is designed for media professionals working in newspapers, television radio and the web. The majority of recommendations are relevant to reportage across all media, but some relate specifically to print media only.

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