How can the media be an ally in suicide prevention efforts?
Reporting on suicides is complex. It is important for journalists, reporters, editors, and other media professionals to be aware that the manner in which the media covers suicide can influence behaviour negatively, adding to distress or leading to a contagion, or positively, by providing hope, removing stigma and encourage help-seeking. Evidence shows that 1-2% of suicides can be related to media reporting, which means if there are 800,000 people a year dying by suicide, media reporting can prevent 8,000 to 16,000 of these deaths.
Thus, the media can be a crucial ally in efforts toward suicide prevention. It is strongly recommended that the media stay away from sensational portrayals of suicide. Rather than focusing on isolated incidents, it would be helpful to think and write about suicide as a larger public health and societal issue. Journalists should use their voice and platform for educating readers about suicide, reducing stigma and encouraging help-seeking behaviour.
When reporting on suicide, it is recommended to follow guidelines that highlight practices toward responsible reporting:
- Notification of Guidelines adopted by the Press Council of India on reporting on suicide cases, 2019
- Preventing suicide: a resource for media professionals, 2017
- Media Guidelines for reporting on Suicide
- One-page printable checklist for reporting on suicide
It is recommended that all reports on suicide promote help-seeking and alternatives to suicide. One way to do this is ensure all reports on suicide provide accurate information about support resources. Here is a consolidated list of suicide prevention helplines that can be used:
Please note, it is the responsibility of the media house/media person to ensure the helpline or resource they endorse or reference is relevant, operational and up to date.
- A tool to check if your article follows a few basic guidelines
- A bibliography of research articles on media reporting and suicide
- An article from the Indian context describing ‘How not to depict mental illness and suicide in news reports’
Project SIREN in the news
- Live life: an implementation guide for suicide prevention in countries. Geneva: World Health Organization; (June 2021) https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240026629
- Special Correspondent (15 June, 2021) The Hindu scores in responsible reporting of suicides. The Hindu. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/the-hindu-scores-in-responsible-reporting-of-suicides/article34824802.ece
- Vijayakumar L, Shastri M, Fernandes TN, Bagra Y, Pathare A, Patel A, Jain P, Merchant Y, Armstrong G, Pathare S. Application of a Scorecard Tool for Assessing and Engaging Media on Responsible Reporting of Suicide-Related News in India. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2021; 18(12):6206. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18126206
- Chandu, M. (October, 2020) Is Indian media complying with suicide reporting guidelines? Study shows language used by many newspapers problematic. Firstpost https://www.firstpost.com/india/is-indian-media-complying-with-suicide-reporting-guidelines-study-shows-language-used-by-many-newspapers-problematic-8857191.html
- India Ahead News (15 December, 2020) Does Mental Health Need a Human Rights Approach? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tbv5S4HjHk&t=277s
- Sutaria, S. (10 September, 2020) Project SIREN: Tracking Indian Media on the Way it Reports Suicides. BoomLive https://www.boomlive.in/fact-file/project-siren-tracking-indian-media-on-the-way-it-reports-suicides-9688