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A quick guide to recommendations for responsible media reporting on suicide events

Whether you’re a general assignment news reporter or have a beat like, arts and entertainment, sports, health, education or crime, there is a lot to consider when deciding how to report on the topic of suicide.

The power of the media

Did you know that reporting suicide details has the potential to lead to other suicide deaths?

It is known as “suicide contagion” and research has found that media coverage which includes details, such as how a person died by suicide, may prompt someone who is vulnerable and struggling with depression, anxiety or substance abuse problems, to identify with the individual and copy actions described in media coverage.

On the flip side, the media can play a huge role in suicide prevention.

How the media can help prevent suicide deaths

“No one has to die by suicide and responsible reporting can also help remind those who are vulnerable that there is hope,” says Dr. Mark Sinyor, psychiatrist at Sunnybrook and lead author of the latest guidelines for responsible media reporting on suicide. “Studies have found when hopeful messages and helpful information are included in media coverage about a death by suicide, this can positively impact an individual and influence them to reach out for help.”

Top 5 tips for reporting on the topic of suicide

What How it can help
Avoid details and images of the method or how the person died by suicide, where or notes left behind These details and images may be ‘triggering’ and have the potential to influence people who are vulnerable to copy this action.
Don’t glorify any suicide deaths Vulnerable individuals may feel as though they relate to the individual, or celebrity. Instead, celebrate the life of the individual or famous person, not the death by suicide.
Always include crisis resources

It is a key opportunity to let people know how to get help. Make it easy for your audience to find help right away by providing crisis resources. For example, in Canada:

If you need help in an emergency please call 911 or visit your local emergency department.

It’s also helpful to provide a list of options or ways to seek help:

  • A trusted family or community member
  • Physician or healthcare provider
  • Counselling/talk therapy
  • Hotline/911 or going to the ER
Appropriate language Instead of “committed”, use “he died by suicide” or “took his/her life” or “her suicide death”
Provide context Don’t oversimplify factors or say a single event lead to a suicide death. Suicide isn’t caused by one event such as “bullying”, it is much more complex including multiple stressors, and mental illness is a significant contributing factor.
Include messages of hope. Suicide isn’t the only option! When individuals are reminded there is hope, that they matter and that people care, they are more likely to get help.