WHO resource offers guidance on media reporting of suicide and how media can contribute to suicide prevention

Today the World Health Organization (WHO) launches the fourth version of Preventing suicide: a resource for media professionals. This resource, produced in collaboration with the International Association for Suicide Prevention, summarizes current evidence on the impact of media reporting of suicide, and provides practical guidance for media professionals on how to report on suicide responsibly. The resource now applies to online, digital and social media as well as more traditional media.

Suicide is a major public health problem with far-reaching social, emotional and economic consequences. More than 700,000 people lose their life to suicide every year and each suicide has a ripple affect directly impacting many more people. Reducing the global suicide mortality rate by one third by 2030 is both an indicator and a target (the only one for mental health) in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and in WHO’s Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013–2030.

“Responsible media coverage of suicide is an important tool in our collective suicide prevention efforts. By using this resource and through accurate, appropriate and empathetic reporting on suicide media professionals can help to minimize imitative behaviours and encourage people to seek vital help” said Dévora Kestel, WHO Director for Mental Health and Substance Use.

The impact of media reporting on suicide

There is overwhelming and ever-increasing evidence that the media can play a significant role in either enhancing suicide prevention efforts or weakening them. The media may provide useful educational information about suicide or may spread misinformation and perpetuate myths about it. Crucially, depending on their content and overarching narrative, media reports about suicide can increase the risk of further deaths by suicide or can help to provide information that may prevent other suicides from occurring.

Notably, vulnerable persons (such as those with a history of suicide attempts or thoughts, or those exposed to suicide) are at an increased risk of engaging in imitative behaviours following media reports of suicide – particularly if the coverage is extensive, prominent, sensational, explicitly describes the method of suicide, makes suicide appear to be normal, or perpetuates widely-held myths about suicide.

However, there is increasing evidence from research that the dissemination of stories about overcoming a suicidal crisis and seeking help also leads to imitative behaviour and consequently can help prevent suicide. Responsible reporting about suicide prevention therefore should seek to educate the public about how thoughts of suicide or self-harm can be addressed. This may encourage persons who are having thoughts of suicide or self-harm to take alternative action and act as a reminder that suicides are preventable.

Promoting responsible reporting as a suicide prevention tool

To support the media in responsible reporting about suicide and to promote the protective effects of responsible reporting about suicide, this updated resource offers guidance to new and traditional media in terms of Dos and Don’ts when specific suicides are reported. It also offers advice on stories about suicide prevention and mental and emotional well-being, which can be introduced proactively into the media and can focus on coping, hope and recovery rather than on suicidal acts.

This resource recognizes that there are times when decisions will be made to report on a given suicide because of its newsworthiness. The resource makes suggestions about how best to ensure that such reporting, whether in traditional or new media, is accurate, responsible and appropriate.

The resource also highlights increasing evidence that reporting focused on survival and resilience can help prevent suicide. Media professionals who proactively seek and report on such stories have the power to make a critical contribution to suicide prevention.  

In summary, the resource highlights the importance of:

  • providing accurate information about where people can seek help;
  • educating the public with facts about suicide and suicide prevention based on accurate information;
  • reporting stories of how to cope with life stressors and/or suicidal thoughts and the importance of seeking help;
  • applying particular caution when reporting celebrity suicides;
  • balancing the public’s “right to know” against the risk of causing harm
  • applying caution when interviewing bereaved family members or friends or persons with lived experience of suicide;
  • recognizing that media professionals may themselves be affected when covering stories about suicide.

The primary audience for this guide comprises all professionals working directly in the media. The Dos and Don’ts, common myths and facts along with the linked resources will be useful for media reporting on suicide and those educating and training media professionals (on the job as well as in curricula), as well as anyone speaking about suicide and suicide prevention. 


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