I spend a certain amount of my time critiquing reporting on disability: Inspiration porn, mercy killing discourse, how disability links to police use of force, and of course so much more. My basic premise is that journalism matters, language matters, and often the media fails to handle admittedly tricky topics very well. This is especially true for general reporters, I feel, who might have limited experience handling specific topics.
Suicide is one of those areas where we have strong evidence that reporting can directly influence how other people experiencing suicidal ideation respond, so I was pleased to see this report –
Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide – released last week. It’s from a huge array of medical and journalism experts.
More than 50 research studies worldwide have found that certain types of news coverage can increase the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable individuals. The magnitude of the increase is related to the amount, duration, and prominence of coverage.
Risk of additional suicides increases when the story explicitly describes the suicide method, uses dramatic/graphic headlines or images, and repeated/extensive coverage sensationalizes or glamorizes a death. Suicide Contagion, or”Copycat Suicide,” occurs when one or more suicides are reported in a way that contributes to another suicide.
Covering suicide carefully, even briefly, can change public misperceptions and correct myths, which can encourage those who are vulnerable or at risk to seek help.