Outlined below are some key issues that police officers and services should consider when interacting with the media about suicidal behaviour or a death by suicide. These should be considered in all interactions, not just official statements.
Consider whether to make a comment
- What does your media policy say about talking to the media generally? What does it say about talking to the media, or the community, about suicide specifically?
- Ensure that you are the most appropriate person to make comment and seek support from your media unit.
- Consider whether the case at hand is one that is likely to be reported by the media. If so, making any suggestions about the cause of death may not be in the best interests of the person’s family or the community.
- In some cases, describing the death as ‘non-suspicious’ may lessen interest in the story but in other cases such as the death of a prominent person this may lead to heightened interest.
- Remember, only a coroner can confirm that a death is a suicide.
Consider how much detail to disclose
- Have you considered the impact of disclosing details about the method or specific location of a suicide? Reporting that includes a detailed description of the method or location has been linked to further suicides.
- Consider how to handle a death that has occurred at a known suicide spot. Can the location be referred to in more general terms, such as ‘a local lookout’ or ‘a building in the CBD’?
- Have journalists been given access to the scene and an opportunity to take pictures or footage? Images of the location where a suicide has occurred have been linked to further deaths at that location.
- Journalists have codes of practice that discourage any detailed description of the method or location of a suicide death. You may have the opportunity to remind them of this if you consider any questions to be inappropriate.
- Have you inadvertently speculated on the cause of a suicide death? Simplistic explanations that suggest suicide might be the result of a single factor or event are unhelpful to the community.
- Have you considered specific cultural protocols? For many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities there are cultural protocols around naming and showing pictures of
a person who has passed away.
Use appropriate language
- Language that might sensationalise suicide or present it as an option for dealing with problems has been shown to be problematic. It is best to use:
* Terms such as ‘non fatal’ rather than ‘unsuccessful suicide’ to describe suicidal actions ;
* Descriptions such as ‘took their own life’ or ‘died by suicide’ rather than ‘successful suicide’ or
‘committed suicide’; and
* Statements such as ‘cluster of deaths’ rather than ‘suicide epidemic’.
- Refer journalists to the Mindframe website
- Are journalists working with you aware of the Mindframe guidelines for reporting suicide? These are available from the Media Professionals section of this website.
- Recommend they access the site for appropriate helpline numbers to include and contact details for mental health and suicide prevention organisations that may be able to assist with the story.
Get to know your local support services
- Do you have a list of mental health or support services in the local area? If you are concerned that people bereaved by a death may be at risk, including police officers who may have attended the scene, it would be useful to refer them to a counselling service (such as those on the Story Sources and Contacts page) or to local services.
- Your organisation will also have support services for members who may be distressed by exposure to suicide.
- Is it appropriate for Police Media to make contact with the local health or suicide prevention services to advise them about a potential story? They may be able to provide information to the journalist that may affect the outcome of the story.