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We need to be careful not to inadvertently glorify suicide

posted Aug 13, 2014, 6:10 AM by SBRL Glasgow   [ updated Apr 1, 2016, 3:04 AM by Glasgow Wellbeing ]
In today's Huffington Post, with others, I urged care to be taken when reporting suicide in the media, including mentioning the challenges of social media specifically (link to article below).  

Those of us who work in suicide research and prevention are not trying to censor the media reporting – suicide has to be talked about, we need to tackle the stigma of mental health – but we are keen to work with the media to ensure the safe reporting of suicide. Safe reporting can save lives.

Every suicide is a tragedy, such an awful waste of a precious life.  When reporting such deaths, it is important not to glamorise suicide; its causes are many, therefore it is not helpful to report suicide as having simplistic causes.  Suicide should never be represented as a desired solution to an individual's problems (which can be psychological, psychiatric, biological or social in nature). 

Most people who come through a suicidal crisis are grateful to be alive. However, in the midst of their overwhelming pain (which can be caused by many factors including depression, unemployment, loss and/or trauma, to name just a few), in the depth of their despair, they feel trapped, they believe that the pain will never end; that they are better off dead. Suicide is seen by many as the only way to end the pain. It shouldn't be. There are other ways to end the pain but is so difficult to see any other way other out when they are so distressed- there are treatments, help and support out there - that said, we urgently need to develop better and more tailored treatments; as the evidence base for treatments to prevent suicide is weak. 

When someone is in despair, insensitive and inappropriate reporting may be triggering for them, especially those who are especially vulnerable.  It is for this reason that we need to take care when reporting suicide.

Scroll down for some useful resources on media reporting of suicide and the causes of suicide.
Some Useful Resources

Samaritans' Guidelines on the media reporting of suicide are here.  

A few years ago, Jane Pirkis (Melbourne) and Warwick Blood reviewed the research on the relationship between media reporting and suicide risk, this review can be found here; and is well worth a read. 

More recently, Madelyn Gould (Columbia) and colleagues reported on the relationship between newspaper coverage of suicide and the initiation of suicide clusters in the USA. 

You may also be interested to listen to a Lancet Psychiatry podcast in which Madelyn Gould, Niall Boyce and I, and others, discuss the effects of media reporting on suicidal behaviour (among other issues).

Understanding suicidal behaviour
If you are interested in trying to understand the psychology of suicidal behaviour, Matt Nock (Harvard) and I have recently published a review on this. 

More general reviews of the factors associated with suicide (by Keith Hawton [Oxford] and Kees van Heeringen [Ghent]) and adolescent suicide and self-harm (by Keith Hawton, Kate Saunders [Oxford], and myself) are also available.

We do not provide a treatment service or advice for those in crisis. If you are in crisis or feeling suicidal we urge you to seek help from your GP, a key worker, or family and friends. You can also contact helpline services such as Samaritans (08457 90 90 90) or, if you are in Scotland, Breathing Space (0800 83 85 87).


Rory O'Connor

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