Trigger warning: suicide related content. Please only read if you feel safe to do so.
Writing about suicide is tricky. How do we know what words to use? How do we get the tone right without causing distress to others? What phrases should be avoided? Should the method of suicide be reported?
Suicide reporting guidelines are in place to provide individuals and organisations with the appropriate guidance to be followed when reporting on a suicide. Those suicide reporting guidelines exist for a reason.
What is that reason? Well, it isn’t about censorship or anything even vaguely along those lines.
Quite simply, suicide prevention guidelines exist in order to prevent suicide.
Suicide reporting guidelines do not say ‘don’t report on suicide’. Instead, they advise on how to report on suicide properly i.e. in a safe and appropriate manner.
Just because our words seem ok to us, doesn’t mean they are ok. It is easy to forget quite how vulnerable those who read or hear our words might be.
Proper and safe reporting of suicide can help save lives.
At a very basic level, suicide reporting guidelines advise us to: ‘Avoid explicit or technical details of suicide in reports’. I can certainly see the harm that this can do.
I am someone who spent a lot of time very, very suicidal. I knew that a lot of people take their own lives by suicide. I knew some methods. But I didn’t know enough information about how to carry out these methods. I was scared to attempt suicide without achieving what I set out to do. I was scared of the shame I would feel afterwards, the embarrassment. I wanted some method that I was sure would work. But I could find nothing that would work for certain. And that scared me. I searched and searched the internet for exact information on a method that would be guaranteed to work. I felt so frustrated that I could not find anything that gave enough information on how to do it. It frustrated me at the time, but I am very glad of it now.
I don’t want to read the exact details of how others managed to take their own lives. That information simply is not necessary.
There are so many ways that bad reporting of suicide can cause much harm to others.
Here’s another example from a good friend of mine: ’When I wanted to die, I felt the universe was against me. News sensationalising such deaths, to me, were a sign I should do it’. I bet that is a side of suicide reporting that is not often thought about.
Who do suicide reporting guidelines apply to? Well, suicide reporting guidelines may have been written targetted at the media, but they don’t just apply to the media. They apply to anyone who is reporting on suicide – whether it is a completed suicide, a suicide attempt… in fact, any suicide related matter. It applies to traditional media but also to those using social media – twitter, facebook, tumblr etc. They even apply to those writing blog posts such as this one.
Where do I find these ‘suicide reporting guidelines’?
- UK suicide reporting guidelines from the Samaritans;
- US suicide reporting guidelilnes from the Suicide Prevention Resource Centre;
- Australian Mindframe guidelines on reporting of suicide.
But I am not in the UK, US or Australia?
Your country likely has its own suicide reporting guidelines. Check the website of your country’s suicide prevention organisation.
But… even if your country does not have their own suicide reporting guidelines or if you can’t find them, you can still use any of those given above. Why? Because people are people, and people will be affected by suicide (and poor reporting of suicide) in the same way whether that is in the UK, US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand or the North Pole.
So have a read through the guidelines today. Have a think about them. And even if you are not a media reporter, even if you never blog, tweet, or communicate using any form of media have a read. Why? Because we will all talk about suicide at some point. And people can be affected by your spoken words in the same way that they can be affected by what they see or hear in the media.
So read… think… share… communicate… and help save lives.
You may also find the following helpful:
- Some facts about suicide;
- Often there just is no ‘why’;
- One of the biggest causes of death is not talking;
- Every parent’s worst nightmare.
Filed under: mental health awareness