September 10th marks World Suicide Prevention Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness about suicide and taking action to prevent it. One crucial aspect of suicide prevention is responsible media reporting. The way suicides are portrayed in the media can have a profound impact on public perception, attitudes, and behaviors. This year’s theme, “Creating Hope through Action,” reminds us of the importance of responsible reporting to instill hope and encourage positive actions. In this article we highlight some Dos and Don’ts for the media when reporting on suicide.
Provide Help-Seeking Information
Including information about suicide prevention resources empowers individuals who may be struggling with thoughts of suicide to take action. It guides them towards professional help and support, reducing the risk of suicide. Providing access to suicide prevention helplines and resources can significantly reduce the rate of suicide. These resources play a vital role in suicide prevention efforts.
Ensure Help-Seeking Information is Up to Date
Providing up-to-date contact information for crisis intervention services and mental health resources is crucial because it enables individuals in crisis to access immediate help. Outdated information can lead to confusion and hinder individuals’ ability to seek assistance. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 90% of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental health disorder. Providing accurate contact information and related resources for mental health services can help individuals get the support they need at the right time.
Include Comments from Mental Health Professionals and Experts by Experience
A study in the “International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health” found that media reporting of suicide that includes expert commentary can positively influence public perceptions and reduce stigma surrounding mental health issues. The input from mental health professionals is paramount in destigmatizing suicide. Such commentary has an immense positive impact on how the public view the issue of suicide. We cannot underestimate the power of of Experts by Experience(EbE) or people with a lived experience of suicide. Their contributions are of great importance both from a peer support perspective, research, policy and legislative perspective.
Highlight That Suicides Are Preventable
It is important for the media to communicate that suicides are preventable. This challenges the common misconception that suicides are inevitable. When media emphasizes on this message, it encourages early interventions, support and most importantly a proactive approach in addressing suicide. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), most people who are suicidal do not want to die; they want their emotional pain to end. The media should be at the fore front of informing the public that people who experience suicidal thoughts or attempt suicide are actually ambivalent about dying. By focusing on an individuals will to live, we can convince them to change their decision.
Provide Links to Hopeful Stories
Using a positive story-telling approach that focuses more on recovery, the media can instill hope in individuals who are struggling with suicidal thoughts. Positive story-telling proves that recovery is possible and promotes a help-seeking culture in the community. Using such strategies the media will communicate a message of wholeness.
Wholeness means a coming together of all the parts of ourselves. It’s about seeing ourselves as a wonderful whole: our full selves, including our strengths, gifts AND our imperfections.Wholeness is about learning to offer kindness to ourselves when we mess up, because we know that we’re learning, and we’ll continue to learn throughout our lives. With this approach, we can let go of the desire and need to be perfect.
A study published in the journal “Social Science & Medicine” found that exposure to stories of resilience and recovery can positively impact individuals experiencing suicidal ideation, reducing their feelings of hopelessness.
Report Information Verified from Official Sources
Factual reporting based on official sources ensures that the information is accurate and reliable. Misinformation or sensationalism can exacerbate fears and misunderstandings about suicide.
Misleading or inaccurate reporting on suicide can lead to harmful consequences, including an increase in suicide rates. A study in the “British Medical Journal” highlighted the importance of responsible media reporting in preventing suicide contagion.
Avoid Criminalizing Language
Criminalizing language stigmatizes mental health issues, making it less likely for individuals to seek help. Suicide is a public health concern, not a criminal act or moral failing. Avoid using terms like “commit suicide” which associate suicide with a criminal act or sin.
The World Health Organization (WHO) states that stigma and discrimination are significant barriers to seeking mental health care including suicide prevention. Stigma decreases access to quality care.
Avoid Sensationalizing Headlines
Sensational headlines can attract attention but may also trivialize the seriousness of suicide and harm vulnerable individuals by glamorizing it. Avoid headlines like “Man hangs himself on a tree after testing positive for Covid-19”
A study published in “JAMA Pediatrics” found that sensational media reporting of suicide is associated with an increased risk of suicide contagion among adolescents.
Avoid Disclosing Details of the Site or Location of Suicide
Disclosing specific details about the site or location of a suicide can inadvertently lead to copycat behavior, known as the “Werther effect.” It can also invade the privacy of grieving families. Avoid details like “Jumped off Nyali bridge into the Indian Ocean”
Research published in the “Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health” suggests that media reporting that includes explicit details about suicide locations can contribute to an increase in suicides in that area.
Avoid Attributing Cause of Death to One Factor or Reason
Suicide is often the result of a complex interplay of factors, including mental health, life circumstances, and personal experiences. Oversimplifying by attributing it to a single factor perpetuates misunderstanding.
The American Psychological Association (APA) emphasizes that understanding the complexity of suicide is essential for effective prevention. Reducing it to a single cause can lead to inadequate interventions.
Avoid Publishing Suicide Notes or Images of the Deceased
Sharing suicide notes or images of the deceased is not only invasive but also disrespectful to the individual and their grieving loved ones. It can also inadvertently glorify suicide.The Reporting on Suicide website, developed by leading suicide prevention organizations, highlights that media guidelines explicitly advise against publishing suicide notes or images.
Avoid Providing Information on Grieving Persons Without Consent
Grief is a deeply personal experience, and individuals have the right to privacy during this difficult time. Sharing information about grieving parties without their consent is a breach of their privacy and can cause further distress. The American Association of Suicidology emphasizes the importance of respecting the privacy and consent of grieving individuals, as outlined in ethical guidelines for media reporting.
Suicide Helplines Kenya
If you are in Kenya and are experiencing thoughts of suicide here are some contacts, you or your loved ones can use.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy-Kenya (CBT-Kenya): 254739 935 333/254 756 454 585. CBT charges for their services
Centre for Suicide Research & Intervention: 254 703 388 130
Red Cross: 1199
Mental 360: 0710 360 360