Briefing: the relationship between media reporting and imitational suicides

The relationship between media reporting and imitational suicides

  • More than 60 research articles have looked at the issue of media reporting of suicide and consistently found that reports of suicide can lead to imitative behaviour ie imitational suicide.  
  • There is strong evidence to suggest that imitational suicides are more likely to result if media coverage is extensive or if news items are placed prominently, if the reporting of the suicide method is detailed or if the suicide is sensationalised or glamorised.
  • Imitational  suicides may be caused by a combination of grief, over-identification and fixation on suicide amongst a group of people who have been exposed to suicide.
  • The relationship between media reporting of suicide and imitational behaviour is particularly strong amongst young or vulnerable people (those experiencing emotional distress or suicidal feelings), and amongst family, friends and colleagues who have been bereaved by suicide.

How the media can help reduce the likelihood of suicide reporting leading to imitational deaths

  • Avoid the placement of stories on the front page or in large headlines to guard against sensationalising the story.
  • Avoid explicit or technical details of suicide methods to prevent imitational deaths. Ideally, don’t report the method of suicide at all.
  • Take care when implying a connection between two or more suicides as this could exacerbate imitational suicides and the contagion effect.
  • Avoid reprinting photographs of the deceased on anniversaries or at the time of other deaths.
  • Avoid the use of dramatic photographs or images related to suicide.
  • Avoid depictions of permanent memorials or expressions of regret by grieving family and friends.
  • Avoid reporting suicide locations and labelling places as suicide ‘hotspots’.
  • Avoid presenting suicide as an appropriate way to cope with emotional crisis; it is an extreme and irreversible action which is not equivalent to more functional responses to crisis, such as seeking emotional support or engaging in physical activity.
  • Include details of sources of help like Samaritans. Samaritans trained volunteers are there to offer confidential, non-judgemental emotional support to anyone experiencing distress; you can contact us by phone on 08457 909090, email jo@samaritans.org or visit http://www.samaritans.org/ to find your nearest branch.


For further information about Samaritans’ Media Guidelines for Reporting Suicide or the work of Samaritans, please contact press on 020 8394 8342 or out-of-hours on 07943 809 162 or email press@samaritans.org.

Please also refer to the section on suicide reporting in the recently-revised Editors’ Codebook http://www.editorscode.org.uk/the_code_book.html page 41.


Press phone: +44 (0)20 8394 8342

Out of hours press phone: +44 (0)7943 809162