Best Practices & Resources for Reporting on Suicide & Prevention
Best Practices & Resources for Reporting on Suicide & PreventionPublished 02/02/2014
Careful reporting plays a vital role in public understanding of suicide prevention and mental illness, which is a factor in 90% of deaths by suicide. Consult the Associated Press Stylebook entry on covering mental illness and the resources gathered here for guidance on appropriate, accurate coverage of these important public health issues.
Tips and Resources
- Check Forefront’s website for current and relevant information on prevalence and statistical breakdowns; preventive factors, public policy, grief support and more.
- Rely on informed, professional sources. Forefront’s staff, affiliated faculty and advisory board members can provide insights, quotes, information and referrals to additional expertise.
Follow the national Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide which were developed by suicide prevention experts and journalists to minimize the risk of “copycat” attempts, change public misperceptions and encourage people to seek help. The collaboration’s Online Media recommendations provide additional guidance links for articles, posts, videos, comments and other online content. In addition:
- Forefront's Tips for Mental Health Reporting provide practical guidance for news and feature coverage of mental illness, treatment and recovery—as well as criminal or violent events involving a person with a mental illness.
- Social Media Guidelines for Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention, produced by the Entertainment Industries Council (EIC)’s TEAM Up project, provide a comprehensive roadmap and resources for using social media safely and effectively.
- The Carter Center Journalism Resource Guide on Behavioral Health offers simple, clear advice on fair and accurate coverage and word use as well as helpful facts, definitions and resources for reporting on behavioral health, substance use and suicide.
- Display the Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number and Warning Signs of Suicide as a sidebar or otherwise conspicuous part of your coverage. Most deaths by suicide are preventable, so this information could save a life.
Choose words and story frames carefully to avoid stigmatizing someone who has a mental illness or has attempted or died by suicide. Stigma perpetuates shame and silence for individuals and families, making it harder to seek professional help and personal support. Here are some simple ways to start:
- Describe people (in headlines too!) as having mental illnesses, not as “the mentally ill.” A Phrase to Renounce for 2014: ‘The Mentally Ill’ by journalist Carey Goldberg explains why. See Forefront’s Tips for Mental Health Reporting and the AP Stylebook changes for more examples and information on people-first language.
- Also renounce the term “committed suicide,” which has criminal overtones and ignores the fact that, in most cases, suicide is the tragic outcome of mental illness and unbearable, in the moment, pain. Better phrases include: died by suicide, completed suicide, took his/her own life.
- Tell stories of hope and recovery in the lives of people who received treatment for their mental illnesses and thoughts of suicide.
- Avoid oversimplified explanations for a death by suicide, and sentimental descriptions of the departed.
For more information on national trends, topics and populations, see:
- The Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) Resources page links to publications, toolkits, fact sheets, & guides for a variety of topics and audiences
- The Jed Foundation for emotional health and suicide prevention for college students
- The Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma
- Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism
- Poynter Institute for Media Studies: Reporting on Suicide
- Talking About Suicide and LGBT Populations