For the Media
The media can play a powerful role in educating the public about suicide prevention. Articles can inform readers and viewers about the likely causes of suicide, warning signs, trends in suicide rates, recent treatment advances and ways to prevent suicide. Articles on suicide also have the potential to do harm.
Certain ways that suicide is described in the news can contribute to "suicide contagions" or "copycat suicides." Articles can sometimes inadvertently romanticize suicide or idealize those who take their own lives. These portrayals can encourage others to identify with the victim. Exposure to the suicide method through the media report may encourage vulnerable people to imitate it. Detailed descriptions or pictures of the location of the death also may encourage others to imitate the suicide.
Suicide and mental illness
The cause of an individual suicide is invariably complicated. It is more than the recent events, such as the victim's break-up or loss of a job. Suicide can't be adequately explained as the understandable response to an individual's stressful occupation or other recent life events. People who die by suicide generally have significant underlying mental health problems, although they may be well hidden. Ninety percent of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental illness at the time of their death.
Other angles that are often seen as helpful to the general public are to convey that effective treatments for most conditions are available but underutilized. Of those that seek help for depression, 80 percent receive effective treatment; however, many don't seek help. Acknowledging the deceased person's problems as well as the positive aspects of life also displays a more balanced picture of the person's life.
Interviewing surviving relatives and friends
Research shows that during the period immediately after a death by suicide, grieving family members and friends have a difficult time understanding what just happened. If interviewed right after the death, their responses may be extreme and problems may be minimized. Often people will say right after a death that it was totally unexpected; however, when emotions are under control they will often admit to seeing changes in the loved one's behavior or obvious warning signs. The majority of people who are thinking of suicide will convey their intentions by actions or thoughts in the months leading up to their death.
When writing articles about a suicide, language is important. It's preferable to avoid referring to a suicide in the headline whenever possible, and instead report the cause of death in the body of the article. Using the phrase "died by suicide" is preferable to using "a suicide" or "committed suicide" as the latter two phrases reduce a person to a mode of death or imply criminal behavior. Contrasting "suicide deaths" with "non-fatal attempts" is preferable rather than using terms such as "successful suicide", "unsuccessful suicide" or "failed suicide."
Suicide is considered a public health problem. Instead of reporting on a suicide the same as a crime, it is sometimes easier to report helpful facts when writing the article like other public health articles. It also is extremely helpful to include the warning signs of suicide and how to get help in the article if there is room. If possible, information from a suicide prevention expert may be helpful in getting prevention information to the public within the article.
Celebrity deaths are more likely than non-celebrity deaths to produce imitation. In these articles it remains essential to use appropriate language and try to not let the glamour of the death overcome the article.
Suicide pacts are mutual agreements between two people who kill themselves at the same time. These pacts are rare. It is important to realize that most pacts involve an individual who is coercive and another who is extremely dependent. Very rarely are there loving individuals who do not wish to be separated.
Social networking and online forums often become memorials to the deceased and should be monitored for hurtful comments and other statements from people that may be considering suicide. Because online reports and photos have potential to go viral, it is vital that online coverage of suicide follows site and industry recommendations. Including stories of hope and recovery and how to increase coping skills can be beneficial online due to quick distribution and easy access to such articles.
Strongest warning signs: If a person displays or states anything listed below, take immediate action.
- Threatening to hurt or kill him/herself, or talking of wanting to hurt or kill him/herself.
- Looking for ways to kill him/herself by seeking access to firearms, available pills or other means.
- Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide, when these actions are out of the ordinary for the person.
Other warning signs include:
- Anxiety, agitation.
- Insomnia or sleep disturbance.
- Increased alcohol or drug use.
- Purposelessness (no reason for living).
- Withdrawing from friends, family and society.
- Rage, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge.
- Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking.
- Dramatic mood changes.
- Feeling trapped, like there's no way out.
Information adapted from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Suicide Prevention Resource Center.