Introduction to Samaritans' Media Guidelines

While journalists cannot give a commitment never to report suicides, guidelines such as these are immensely useful.
They have reaffirmed my instincts, following an experience I had with a possible copycat death as a reporter, and helped to steer my approach to the reporting of these deaths.

Ben Lowry, News Editor, Belfast News Letter

Reporting suicide

On average, over 6,000 people take their own lives by suicide each year across the United Kingdom (UK) and Republic of Ireland (ROI).

Suicide is a complex topic and challenging for journalists who report on it.

You have to balance a range of factors including what is in the public interest and the risk of encouraging imitative behaviour.

At the same time you must guard against intrusion into the grief and shock of the bereaved while considering industry regulation and codes of practice.

The dangers of irresponsible reporting

Research shows that inappropriate reporting of suicide may lead to imitative or ‘copycat’ behaviour. 

For example, if vulnerable groups such as people with mental health problems and young people are provided with details about the method of suicide used, it can lead to more deaths using the same method.

Similarly, a vulnerable person who might not otherwise have attempted suicide could strongly identify with a particular characteristic of a person who has died by suicide, and this may lead them to take their own life.

The positive impact of reporting suicide

Through working closely with the media to promote responsible reporting of suicide, we have seen signs of significant progress over the years.

One of the ways coverage of suicide can have a positive effect is by encouraging people to seek help. 

Sensitive coverage can also help reduce the taboo around talking about suicidal feelings as well as challenging stigma.

About Samaritans Media Guidelines

Samaritans’ Media Guidelines for Reporting Suicide have been produced following extensive consultation with journalists and editors throughout the industry. 

They provide practical recommendations for reporting suicide across all media. 

Samaritans’ Media Guidelines are advisory. They are not exhaustive and they are in no way intended to limit press freedom. Our aim is to prevent suicides whenever possible. 

First and foremost, Samaritans wants to support the highest quality journalism and help reporters avoid common pitfalls when reporting on suicide.

Supplementary factsheets

We have also produced a series of supplementary factsheets: