Suicide is the main cause of death in young people under the age of 35 in the UK, with more than 200 teenagers being lost to suicide every year. Research shows that with early intervention and support, suicide by young people can be prevented.

When reporting suicide in the media it is important to consider, not only the grief of family and friends of the deceased, but other vulnerable young people who may be feeling worthless and not coping with life at that time. It is well known that insensitive media reporting of suicide can prompt imitative behaviour with evidence about the potential for imitative behaviour being strong.

Suicide is a major public health concern and is therefore a subject that is very much in the public interest. While sensitive reporting can help to educate and inform about specific signs to look out for, research shows that if suicide is reported explicitly, or is sensationalised this can in fact lead to an increase in suicide rates.

It is a good idea to think about the impact of coverage on the audience, with extra considerations being taken, specifically to headlines, ensuring that they aren’t romanticised in any way.

According to the Samaritans there are 10 things to remember when reporting suicide.

1. Avoid reporting of methods used.
2. Include references to suicides being preventable and signpost to resources for support.
3. Avoid dramatic terms and never suggest that someone died instantly or that their death was quick or easy. Steering clear of language that could potentially ‘glorify’ suicide.
4. Don’t refer to a specific site or location.
5. Avoid dramatic and emotive pictures and videos, excessive imagery can glamourise a death and lead vulnerable individuals to overidentify with the deceased.
6. Avoid making the story a front page or lead story.
7. Treat social media with caution.
8. Don’t include content from a suicide note or similar messages left by a person who has died.
9. Avoid speculation about the ‘triggers’ or cause of a persons death. Suicide is extremely complex and most of the time there is no single event that leads to someone taking their own life.
10. Don’t endorse myths around suicide.

Another factor to remember is that suicide is not a crime, and so we urge you not to use the term ‘committed suicide’. Changes made in the Suicide Act of 1961 decriminalised the act of suicide in the UK. The word ‘commit’ treats it as if it were still a crime, which adds to the stigma around suicide and is offensive to families and friends.

It is well known that the media environment can be very demanding, reporting on suicide can therefore be very challenging, the above are intended as guidelines to help and support journalists.

Another document that is available for journalists is: The editor’s code of practice. This sets out the guidelines that newspapers and magazines have agreed to follow and is set out by the Independent Press Standards Organisation. Included within the code is ‘Clause 5: Reporting on Suicide.’

This states “when reporting suicide, to prevent simulative acts care should be taken to avoid excessive detail of the method used, while taking into account the media’s right to report legal proceedings.”

When reporting suicide within broadcast media, it is also an idea to follow the same guidelines to protect all involved. There are a specific set of guidelines for this type of reporting that are published by OFCOM, this is called The OFCOM Broadcasting Code.

This states in clause 2.5 that the “rule reflects a continued concern about the impact of real or portrayed suicide, and self-harm, on those whose minds may be disturbed. Whilst it is always difficult to prove causality, various studies have shown that there may be a short-lived increase in particular methods of suicide portrayed on television. Broadcasters should consider whether detailed demonstrations of means, or methods of suicide or self-harm are justified.”

Included within the code is also a section on ‘Violence, dangerous behaviour and suicide’ and ‘Protecting the under-eighteens’. The full code can be found here.

Talking about suicide and publicising this is important, however, language can cause unintentional harm and could reinforce the stigma that already surrounds suicide within the community. When reporting suicide ensuring appropriate language is used is vital, this has the power to transform lives. Talking about suicide sensitively and powerfully has the ability to help shatter the stigma that sadly still surrounds suicide.

Try and use content warnings as and when you can and remember that every individual’s experience of suicide is different and content warnings allow people to know that sensitive content is coming, this way if they are in a vulnerable situation or headspace, they can decide whether to read the content or not.

Mind explains that there is no perfect content warning, but the ultimate goal should be to help.
Headline content warnings so they are the first thing the reader or audience sees or notices.
Explain specifically what you are warning about. Language like ‘upsetting experiences’ is too vague. Stay focused by saying the content includes ‘suicidal feelings’ or ‘being sectioned’.
Label what has been left out. This helps the audience to judge the level of risk for themselves.
Precise. Use short sentences and plain English.

Signposting readers and viewers to help and support that is available is a great tool to include at the end of the media piece. This allows them to be able to know where to go for advice should they be struggling with thoughts of suicide or if they are concerned about an individual that may be struggling with thoughts of suicide.

HOPELINE247 is a free confidential helpline ran by trained suicide prevention advisers, we are open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. If you would like free, anonymous support and advice you can call 0800 068 4141, text ‘HOPE’ to 88247 or email pat@papyrus-uk.org.

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