Monday, March 01, 2010

The Importance of Proper Media Coverage of Suicide

The way media reports suicide can do one of two things. They can unwittingly create a contagious trend or can educate and help others receive treatment.

Research has shown that how suicide is reported makes all the difference. Below is an excerpt from the Suicide Prevention Resource Center.

What to Avoid

Avoid detailed descriptions of the suicide, including specifics, method and location.
Reason: Detailed descriptions increase the risk of a vulnerable individual imitating the act.

Avoid romanticizing someone who has died by suicide. Avoid featuring tributes by friends or relatives. Avoid first-person accounts from adolescents about their suicide attempts.
Reason: Positive attention given to someone who has died (or attempted to die) by suicide can lead vulnerable individuals who desire such attention to take their own lives.

Avoid glamorizing the suicide of a celebrity.
Reason: Research indicates that celebrity suicides can promote copycat suicides among vulnerablepeople. Do not let the glamour of the celebrity obscure any mental health or substance abuse problems that may have contributed to the celebrity’s death.

Avoid overstating the frequency of suicide.
Reason: Overstating the frequency of suicide (by, for example, referring to a “suicide epidemic”) may cause vulnerable individuals to think of it as an accepted or normal response to problems. Even in populations that have the highest suicide rates, suicides are rare.

Avoid using the words “committed", “failed” or “successful” suicide.
Reason: The verb “committed” is usually associated with sins or crimes. Suicide is better understood in a behavioral health context than a criminal context. Consider using the phrase “died by suicide.” The phrases “successful suicide” or “failed suicide attempt” imply favorable or inadequate outcomes. Consider using “death by suicide” or “non-fatal suicide attempt.”

What to Do

• Always include a referral phone number and information about local crisis intervention services.

• Emphasize recent treatment advances for depression and other mental illness. Include stories of people whose treatment was life-saving or who overcame despair without attempting suicide.

• Interview a mental health professional who is knowledgeable about suicide and the role of treatment or screening for mental disorders as a preventive strategy.

• Emphasize actions that communities can take to prevent suicides.

• Include a sidebar listing warning signs, or risk and protective factors for suicide.


List of Suicide Hotlines

Suicide Symptoms and Warning Signs

Overcoming Suicidal Thinking

Protective Factors and Resources

Pirkis, J. (2009). Suicide and the media Psychiatry, 8 (7), 269-271 DOI: 10.1016/j.mppsy.2009.04.009


Sharon S said...

This is a really important post and full of useful information. One thing that caught my eye was the term "died by suicide" instead of "committed suicide"- what an important distinction.

Vanessa Marsden said...

Your post is very good and informative. I write a blog about psychiatry and current affairs in portuguese and I took the liberty of translating certain parts of your text (referring to you as the author with a proper link, of course). As a psychiatrist myself, I never came accross a list so comprehensive of what to do or not to do and I'd really like to share it with those who do not speak english. You can check it on the link

Dr. Deb said...

I agree, it is an important distinction.

Feel free to use anything meaningful. I will also link to you.

Anonymous said...

When I worked at a newspaper we never reported a sudden death as being a suicide for the reasons you state, as well as sensitivity to the family. Only if the suicide was obviously public did we report it.

Belizegial said...

The families of suicide victims deserve to have to have as much of their privacy preserved as possible. Thanks for these useful tips.

Awake In Rochester said...

I once read a book about suicide that was by a woman, whos husband had died that way. It was supose to be a book to help loved ones who were left. Instead she went into detail about how her husband, a doctor, killed himself including the name of the drugs and how to make an I.V. Poll from stuff around the house. She also mentioned many other ways how to do it including how a sheet that was used in a creative way. I couldn't believe it! She was giving instrutions to others on how to kill themselves. What an idiot!

commoncents said...

Thank You for posting this! I really like your blog!!

Common Cents

ps. Link Exchange??

James Goodson said...

I agree. It's very important, but media will always chase news as that's what people are interested... they aren't interested in happy things, they are interested in scandals, bad things and things like that. It's just how we are wired!

Marj aka Thriver said...

Thanks for another great, awareness-raising post, Dr. Deb! The information you posted about specific wording is so important. Words have incredible power and it's good to keep that in mind.

Deb said...

You're absolutely right - coming from someone who has been on 'the other side'----I remember all of these ringing true. It's also so hard to pinpoint if the "threat" is real or just a cry for help...

Leigh Ann Otte said...

Great, timely post. I too appreciated the suggestion of "died by suicide." I also liked the idea of featuring stories of people who got help. Thank you.

Forbidden Regrets said...

Enternal Love:Grab hold of the utmost love, gaze upos its eternaty. Passionate images enclose you in a dream. Chosing illusion over reality. Dreams over life. Pleasure over freedom. Your desires take hold where you're sheltered. Only to get a glimps of a healing wish. Leavinf unheard echoes behind. Waiting for the miracle that will embrace your soul. You're touched by the unblemished angel. Your ambitious heart is betrayed, lost and wretched. Invisible to the eye, controling over your mind, Precious memories will stay at ease. Intertwined into a collapsed promise. Only to remember your unconditional detemination. So the fragile body has warmth.

Just thought I's share. This is my opinion on what its like with a mental disorder. Thanks for sharing your blog entry with me.

-Real Diary of my life with Major Depressive Disorder and Anxiety Disorders. There's two worlds, ours...then thiers. I'm tired of hiding the dark side.

Clueless said...


I felt that this issue was important enough to post an article on it especially after reading and hearing some comments.
If you are interested here is the link:


Anonymous said...

Much wisdom here. I am always concerned about people's vulnerabilities when suicides are reported. People need help. I really appreciated your suggested better wording. I hope the media pays attention!

Paul from Mind Parts said...

Really great you wrote this!

Would you consider it for submission to the Carnival Against Child Abuse? Link is here: