Suicide reporting - research and evidence

Over the past few decades there has been significant research into media coverage of suicide and how it can affect behaviour.

The research shows that, when the media has applied caution in the reporting of suicide, there have been positive outcomes, potentially reducing the number of deaths.

This academic research has been conducted mainly around ‘mainstream’ media, including television and print newspapers, but there is growing interest among researchers to investigate the possible influence of digital media on suicidal behaviour.

Media coverage and suicidal behaviour

A World Health Organisation (WHO) publication on media coverage of suicide in 2008, Preventing Suicide – A Resource for Media Professionals, verifies universal links between media coverage and imitative behaviour, it states:

Vulnerable individuals may be influenced to engage in imitative behaviours by reports of suicide, particularly if the coverage is extensive, prominent, sensationalist and/or explicitly describes the method of suicide.

Preventing Suicide – A Resource for Media Professionals, WHO, 2008

In 2010 a comprehensive global review of the scientific literature carried out by Jane Pirkis and colleagues of 97 studies on suicide and the media concluded:

Irresponsible presentations of suicide in news and information media can influence imitational acts.

Jane Pirkis et al, 2010

The Pirkis et al report also stressed:

"The findings of the current review should not be interpreted as a call for censorship of the media; it is acknowledged that the media has a role to play in raising awareness of suicide as a public health issue.

"Rather the findings should be interpreted as an indication that media presentation of suicide should be done responsibly, and balanced against the public’s ‘right to know’ in order to reduce the potential harm confirmed by the evidence."

Jane Pirkis et al, 2010

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