News stories, articles, and dramatic presentations on the subject of suicide have come under question in the last few years. The concern has been that such presentations may have stimulated some persons to attempt suicide. There is confusion about how the subject of suicide should be treated to minimize this danger.
As a service to the news media and to the people making public presentation on the subject of suicide, the American Association of Suicidology and the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (CASP) offer the following guidelines. These are intended to be general statements to aid in a responsible presentation of information about suicide.
To discourage imitative or copycat suicides, it is important to avoid or minimize:
- Reporting specific details of the method
- Descriptions of a suicide as unexplainable e.g., “He had everything going for him.”
- Reporting romanticized versions of the reasons for the suicide(s), e.g., “We want to be together for all eternity.”
- Simplistic reasons for the suicide, e.g., “Boy dies by suicide because he has to wear braces.”
In addition, the print media can reduce the imitative effect by:
- Printing story on inside page
- If story must appear on first page, print it below the fold
- Avoid the word “suicide” in the headline
- Avoid printing a photo of the person who died by suicide
It is important to report a suicide in a straightforward manner so that the suicide does not appear exciting. Reports should not make the suicidal person appear admirable, nor should they seem to approve of the suicide.
To encourage prevention of suicide, it is helpful to:
- Present alternatives to suicide, e.g., calling a suicide prevention centre, getting counselling, etc.
- Whenever possible, present examples of positive outcomes of people in suicidal crises.
- Provide information on community resources for those who may be suicidal or who know people who are.
- Include a list of clues to suicidal behavior, for example, the warning signs of suicide and what to do:
Warning Signs of Suicide
- Suicide threats
- Statements revealing a desire to die
- Previous suicide attempts
- Sudden changes in behaviour (withdrawal, apathy, moodiness)
- Depression (crying, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, hopelessness)
- Final arrangements (such as giving away personal possessions)
What to Do
- Discuss it openly and frankly
- Show interest and support
- Get professional help
- Call your local Crisis/Distress Line