Postvention Toolkit: Media Guidelines
The way that a story of suicide is reported in the media can have a big impact on those who are struggling with thoughts and feelings of suicide.
Be thoughtful about who delivers information and how it is communicated.
Guidelines for speaking to the media after a suicide
The Canadian Psychiatric Association has released a policy paper advising on how to speak to the media about a suicide loss.
In it, they recommend that journalists follow the following best practices.
Weigh the story’s newsworthiness and the public’s need to be informed with potential harm related to contagion. Be familiar with your organizational guidelines relating to reporting on suicide. If the decision is to proceed with coverage, plan and/or discuss how harm might be minimized.
Seek advice from suicide prevention experts.
Be especially cautious when reporting on celebrity or youth suicide deaths, as these currently have the strongest evidence for contagion.
Consider how a vulnerable person may identify with the suicidal behaviour/people depicted, and consider steps that might minimize this.
Consider the impact of the report on:
those thinking of suicide or potentially at-risk for suicide,
those bereaved by suicide, including attention to respect for their privacy and grief,
the journalist who is reporting the story.
Consider the appropriate approach/format. Suicide reporting should generally be done by health reporters rather than other journalists (e.g., crime reporters), as they are best positioned to contextualize the issue within the broader topic of mental health; if other journalists do report, they should at least consult with guidelines and/or health reporter colleagues.
Where possible, long-form reporting is recommended, as it allows journalists the opportunity for nuanced discussion and may avoid presenting the causes of suicide in an overly simplistic fashion.
Factors for Journalists and Editors/Producers to Consider Before Covering Suicide-Related Content: We acknowledge that suicide death of prominent figures will invariably result in serial coverage but urge journalists to nevertheless weigh the need for additional stories.
Recommendations for Potentially Harmful Elements of Media Reporting that Should Be Avoided and Potentially Helpful Elements to Include Avoid Include:
Prominent coverage, including
front page/lead story coverage
prominent photos of the deceased or loved ones or people engaged in suicidal behaviour
Graphic or sensational depictions
Excessive detail, including: details or photos of the method and/or location; particularly avoid reporting novel or uncommon methods
glorifying or glamourizing either the person or the act of suicide in a way that might lead others to identify with them
the content of suicide notes
Repetitive or excessive coverage
Inappropriate use of language, including
The word “suicide” in the headline
“commit” or “committed” suicide
“successful/unsuccessful” or “failed” attempts
Simplistic or superficial reasons for the suicide (i.e., suicide as arising from a single cause or event, such as blaming social media for suicide)
Portraying suicide as achieving results and solving problems
do not describe suicidal behaviour as quick, easy, painless, certain to result in death, or relieving suffering/ leading to peace (“in a better place”)
Appropriate language (e.g., “he died by suicide” or “her suicide death”)
Reporting that reduces stigma about mental disorders/ seeking mental healthcare, and that challenges common myths about suicide
refer to research linking mental disorders with suicide
highlight that mental disorders are treatable and therefore that suicide is preventable
highlight the tragedy of suicide (i.e., describe it in terms of a lost opportunity for someone suffering to have received help)
seek advice from suicide prevention experts and consider including quotes on causes and treatments
Alternatives to suicide (i.e., treatment)
include community resource information, such as websites or hotlines, for those with suicidal thoughts
Where possible, list or link to a list of options including reaching out to a trusted family or community member, speaking to a physician or health care provider, seeking counselling/talk therapy, calling a hotline/911, or going to a nearby emergency department
where possible, cite examples of a positive outcome of a suicidal crisis (i.e., calling a suicide hotline)
embed emergency resource links/banners (for online content) 4. Information for relatives and friends, such as
warning signs of suicidal behaviour
how to approach, support and protect a suicidal person