Comprehensive guide


Quick tips

Things to remember when talking to the media about suicide:

  • Consider the potential impact of the story and whether you should be involved;
  • Provide expert comment or advice where possible;
  • Provide the media with helpline contacts and information about crisis support services, treatment and support options A guide for media about the correct help-seeking information for inclusion in news stories is available here.
  • Communicate the need to avoid description of the method and location of suicide;
  • Check your language does not glamorise suicide or present it as normal or an option for dealing with problems;
  • Help the journalist with context about suicide by providing general information about suicide and its relationship to mental illness and other risk factors;
  • Exercise caution when providing access to people who have been bereaved by suicide;
  • Promote the Mindframe for media professionals resources and website (www.mindframe/for-media) to journalists.

MHS IconThe mental health and suicide prevention sector has a key role in supporting the media professionals when reporting about suicide, which is a topic of legitimate public interest for the media to cover.

These are, however, complex issues to convey when considering the demanding pressures on journalists. In addition, national1 and international research2, indicates that there are potential risks to the community when reporting suicide in certain ways.

 

Issues to consider when talking to the media about suicide

Consider whether to participate in the story

The following factors should be considered when deciding whether to be involved in a media report:

  • Are you or your organisation able to provide comment or advice to media professionals? Are you the most appropriate organisation or person to be commenting on the issue under question? Do you have the time or people available to work with the media?
  • Familiarise yourself with relevant organisational media policies. These should provide guidance about who within the organisation is authorised to speak with the media and on which particular issues.
  • Avoid engaging in repetitive, prominent or excessive reporting of suicide as this may have the effect of normalising suicide and has been linked with increased rates of actual suicide. However, this does not mean that all suicide reports should be avoided.
  • Think about whether the story is likely to have benefits for the community. That is, does it provide an opportunity to increase community understanding, highlight groups at risk or promote help-seeking behaviour in some way? If this is the case, consider in what ways you may be able to have input.
  • While you always have the option of saying ‘no’ you may want to consider the impact of not participating in a story. That is, the story may still be run without expert comment and advice. Would this outcome be worse than if you did participate? Sometimes, even negative stories can provide an opportunity for education and suicide prevention messages, or at the very least encouraging the inclusion of helpline numbers.


Should you take part in the story?

When deciding whether to participate in a story you may want to consider what type of media is making the approach and whether you are best placed to provide them with information. Do they have a national, state or local audience? Do they require general information, specific information for a particular community group, or information related to a specific incident?

It would be beneficial as an organisation, or individual, to prepare a list of topics and areas that you are able to provide information about or to comment on. For some organisations specialising in suicide prevention, the list may be extensive while for other organisations with a specific focus, the list may be quite limited.

 

Provide expert comment/advice

If your organisation is able to provide advice or comment to the media it may be useful to compile a list of qualified people within the organisation who can speak to the media about suicide. One individual may not be an expert on all aspects of the issue.

If you are providing an expert who will make comment, make sure they are familiar with the Mindframe principles outlined in this website.

If the information requested is on issues that lie outside your area of experience or expertise, refer media professionals to a suitable local or national expert in the field. Alternatively, you can refer them to the Story sources and contacts section of the Mindframe for Media Professionals section of this site.

You may want to designate at least one person who can discuss ‘ways of reporting suicide’ with media professionals who approach your organisation and ensure they are aware of the Mindframe resources for media professionals. This may most naturally be a public affairs unit or an identified media liaison representative. For smaller organisations, a designated person who is informed about the issues may be appointed.

 

Encourage media to add crisis support contacts to any story about suicide

Vulnerable people may be distressed by reports of suicide and, in some cases, may be prompted to harm themselves. It is important that 24-hour crisis support service contacts (telephone and/or online) are included with all reports about suicide (CLICK here for the media guide to adding help-seeking information). Suggest that media professionals read the information available in this guide before writing their story.

It is important to provide support information relevant to the audience for each story. For most reports it is appropriate to cite a 24-hour crisis support service as well as the national or local mental health support services. However, you may also want to consider contact details for particular population groups such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and for Australians from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

 

MHS IconAvoid description of the suicide

Reporting that includes detailed description or images of method and/or location of a suicide has been linked in some cases to further suicides using the same method or location.

When suicide occurs it is likely that the media already have information about the method and location of death. Avoid discussing these details and discourage media professionals from including them in reports wherever possible. At the very least, the method and/or location of suicide should be mentioned only in general terms.

You may want to provide alternative suggestions for ways to report the act that do not provide specific details. The following examples illustrate how this might be done:

say

rather than

the person took a 'cocktail of medications' outlining the specific medications that were taken
the person 'fell to their death from a local building' they 'jumped from the top floor of the Skyline building on Smith Street'
the person 'took their own life in a hospital room' 'she used her bed sheet to hang herself from the ceiling fan'
 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians

For many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities there are cultural protocols around naming and showing pictures or video of a person who has passed away. In many cases mentioning the person’s name or showing them visually in the media can cause distress to the family and community.

For suicide deaths involving an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person, avoid releasing their name or details to the media. Explain the reason for withholding this information and request that media professionals respect appropriate cultural protocols.


MHS IconUse appropriate language

The language used in media reports can contribute to suicide being presented as glamorous, normal or as an option for dealing with problems.

Media professionals are given recommendations about appropriate language. It is important that the language you use when talking to the media is consistent with these suggestions. Written communication with media professionals (e.g. media releases) should also be checked for appropriate language.

When talking about suicide:

use

rather than

'non fatal' or 'attempt on his/her life' 'unsuccessful suicide'
'took their own life' or 'died by suicide' 'successful suicide' or 'committed suicide'
statements such as 'increasing rates' or 'cluster of deaths' 'suicide epidemic' which is sensationalist and inaccurate
 

Support the media to place a story in context

Placing stories about suicide in the context of risk factors and other mental health issues can assist in breaking down myths about suicide and promote a better understanding of it as a wider issue and a challenge for the community.

Some factors to be considered include:

  • Provide information about suicide and its relationship to mental illness and other risk factors. For privacy or confidentiality reasons it may be more appropriate to give general information rather than specific information about an individual;
  • Avoid simplistic explanations that suggest suicide might be the result of a single factor or event (e.g. a relationship breakdown);
  • Provide suicide prevention information such as risk factors and warning signs and encourage its inclusion in the story;
  • Provide information in simple terms and without jargon.
  • You may also want to provide the journalist with Mindframe's current Facts and statistics about suicide.

You may want to consider the type of media and their potential audience when providing facts, statistics and other background information.

Decide whether it is more appropriate to give general information (i.e. rates for the whole population) or information for a particular group in the community – e.g. young people, those experiencing mental illness, rural and remote, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples or people from culturally or linguistically diverse backgrounds.

 

Exercise caution in facilitating access to people bereaved by suicide

If the media wish to interview those who have been bereaved by suicide, be aware that these people may be quite vulnerable. Those who have been bereaved may include health workers who knew the person, as well as family and friends.

People bereaved by suicide may be at risk of mental health problems and possibly suicidal behaviour themselves. They may be particularly vulnerable in the first year following the death and on anniversaries after that time. Be cautious about facilitating media access at these particularly vulnerable times and inform media professionals about the risks, as they may seek access through other avenues.

Support relatives or friends of people who have died by suicide who are approached for an interview to make an informed decision about participation. Also, ensure that relatives or friends acting as spokespeople have access to adequate support during and after the interview.

 

Refer journalists to the Mindframe for media professionals section of this website

At every opportunity, either through telephone discussions, in person, or through press releases and other correspondence, ensure that the media professional concerned knows about, and has access to, the Mindframe resources.

Refer journalists to the Mindframe website (www.mindframe-media.info) or attach PDF copies of the quick reference cards (downloadable here) in an email or press release. It is recommended that the Mindframe website be added to the bottom of all correspondence with media professionals.


References
 
[1] Pirkis, J., & Blood, W. (2010). Suicide and the news and information media: A critical review. Australia, ACT, Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. 

[2] Ibid.