According to the World Health Organization, 800,000 people die due to suicide annually. What’s saddening to note is that suicide is the second leading cause of death amongst 15-24-year-olds. Given these statistics, it is evident that the media has a tremendous role to play in reporting such issues. Unfortunately, the way in which news media handles such reporting is sensationalistic and often forsakes the ethics of journalism.
It is common consensus that the irresponsible reporting of suicide can be detrimental to societal perception. Careless reporting can create further stigmatization of mental health diseases or even foster suicide contagion. Whether you are a journalist or an avid social media commentator, here’s a framework to keep in mind if you are thinking about writing or sharing information on suicide.
1) Never endorse sensationalistic titles
A sensationalistic title is one that has been authored to entice a reaction as opposed to propagating information. The Asian Journal of Psychiatry found that Indian newspapers possessed the strong tendency to sensationalize suicide. This originates from titles that are provocative in nature or are written to be emotive as opposed to factual. If you happen to come across such articles, avoid sharing or promoting them in any manner.
2) Pay close attention to the diction used
Psychologists agree that when creating a report on a suicide, journalists must be acutely attentive towards their lexical choices. This includes the importance of avoiding phraseology such as “a failed attempt,” “it was successful” or “it was unsuccessful.” Instead, reports emphasize the importance of using technically accurate vocabulary. Mindframe media suggests instead, to use phrases such as “non-fatal attempt” or “died by suicide.” In fact, several organizations even warn reporters against using the common term “committed,” as it associates suicide with a crime or a sin. Similarly, never refer to societal conditions in a glamorized manner such as “a suicide epidemic,” instead stay factual: “rising rates of suicide.”
3) Never Speculate
Articles and posts should never suppose or imply reasoning behind a suicide. This also includes suggesting that the suicide was “spontaneous” or “without warning”. It is important to understand that the underlying causes of suicide are complex, and one must never make an attempt to hypothesize the trigger for the same. It is especially important to prevent blaming individuals as apparent reasons for a suicide. News media and the public must remain factual.
4) Never offer explicit details on methods
Psychologists agree that explicit depictions of suicide can result in suicide contagion. Never provide comments on specificities such as the brand and number of pills swallowed or the technicalities about the ligature used. If you stumble upon such posts, ensure that you flag them for explicit content and do not share them.
5) Always Offer Help
It is of pivotal importance to report suicide as a public health issue as opposed to a crime. Try to include information from suicide prevention experts and provide appropriate resources such as suicide prevention helplines. It is important to remember that suicide can be a triggering topic and sufficient efforts must be taken to offer essential help and support.
If you are currently having suicidal thoughts know that you are never alone. Visit http://ibpf.org/resource/list-international-suicide-hotlines to find a hotline number closest to you.