Suicide reporting - Additional points to consider
1. Breaking news and instant publishing
A breaking story where events move swiftly and are the focus of national attention can increase pressure on journalists to produce speedy reports, which may increase the potential for error or inappropriate coverage.
Consult with your organisation’s in-house guidelines or codes of practice on reporting suicide before going live. If in doubt, contact Samaritans’ press office.
2. High profile deaths by suicide
There may be a higher risk of unintentionally glamorising suicide in the case of celebrities or high profile individuals. Pay special attention to the general reporting tips when working on such stories.
- It may be months or even years after a death before an inquest is held. Be aware that inquests can be very distressing for the bereaved people and need to be reported sensitively.
- Coroners’ reports routinely include explicit detail about the circumstances surrounding a death, such as the methods used. This does not mean, however, that every detail should automatically be reported. In order to protect vulnerable people, careful thought should be given to the reporting of explicit or excessive detail.
- Likewise, explicit details supplied by others involved with a case, for example police or paramedics at a scene, should be treated with the same caution. See Working with the bereaved factsheet (PDF).
If using ‘trend’ data within a story, be aware that statistical ‘blips’ in suicide rates may occur from one year to the next. This can be especially true if focusing on the number of suicides in small geographic areas.
It is best to look at timeframes of three or more years to identify significant patterns, for example increases in suicide rates for particular groups.
Murder-suicide is a rare phenomenon but one which can attract an exceptional degree of media attention.
A murder-suicide is when a person kills members of their family before taking their own life, or where an individual murders a number of people in a public place, such as a school, before taking their own life.
The circumstances of these deaths can be dramatic and disturbing, reports should adhere to the general media guidelines.
Extreme caution is required, since imitational behaviour also applies to murder-suicide.
The terms and phrases used when reporting suicide are important.
Inappropriate or careless use of language can perpetuate stigma or sensationalise a death, while careful use can help balance the coverage, and minimise distress to bereaved family members and friends.
Avoid labelling a death as someone having ‘committed suicide’. The word ‘commit’ in the context of suicide is factually incorrect because it is no longer illegal.
With this in mind, Samaritans recommends:
Phrases to use:
- A suicide
- Take one’s own life
- Person at risk of suicide
- Die by/death by suicide
- Suicide attempt
- A completed suicide
Phrases to avoid:
- Commit suicide
- Cry for help
- A ‘successful’ or ‘unsuccessful’
- Suicide victim
- Suicide ‘epidemic’, ‘craze’or ‘hot spot’
- Suicide ‘tourist’