Media Guidelines

OHIO SUICIDE REPORTING GUIDELINES

Responsible reporting on suicide has the power to save lives. How you shape a story — the details given, words used and resources provided — will minimize suicide contagion for vulnerable individuals and increase awareness of this major public health issue. Social media presents new challenges and opportunities to shape our understanding of and response to this largely preventable form of death.

1. Limit Suicide Contagion

“Suicide contagion” is the process by which one or more suicides increase the risk of suicidal behavior in others. Contagion effects are greatest when suicide is viewed as a means to achieving a goal such as escaping unbearable pain or receiving recognition by way of a strong community response following death. Celebrity deaths by suicide have a strong potential to contribute to suicide contagion due to frequency and depth of reporting, as well as the likelihood that the public feels they can identify with such well-known individuals. Due to being more easily influenced by peer behavior, romanticizing suicidal behavior in peers, and viewing community grief reactions to a friend’s suicide as something they may want for themselves, adolescents and teenagers are at increased risk for suicide contagion compared to adults. ​

To limit suicide contagion when covering suicide, consider these recommendations:

  • Cover the story in a non-sensationalistic, sensitive way that respects the individual who died by suicide and those surviving this painful loss.
  • if you decide to include narrative that could cause intense emotional distress, use the phrase “Content Warning” or use a visual cut so that users can click to read additional material after a neutral description of the article.  

2. Frame Story Ethically

A journalist can choose to formulate a story about suicide in many ways: a tragic event that has devastated a community; the unpredictable or dangerous behavior of a person battling a mental health condition (not advised); or the loss of an individual who struggled with profound emotional pain but was unable to access potentially lifesaving resources. A journalist’s story formulation has the power to influence public perception regarding suicide, and it can either increase or decrease the risk of vulnerable individuals to engage in suicidal behavior.

When considering how you might formulate a story on suicide:

  • Consider the purpose of the story and how the narrative will impact your audience.
  • Avoid reporting that aims to captivate readers by the graphic or sensationalistic nature of a suicide; the method of suicide or the death itself should not be the foundation of the story.

3. Use Appropriate Language

Journalists are aware that the precise use of language is critical, especially when discussing uncomfortable topics such as suicide. Specific terminology can either reinforce stereotypical notions, myths, and misconceptions of depression and suicide, or they can frame suicide as a largely preventable public health problem. Many individuals struggle silently with suicidal thoughts without seeking the support of effective treatment, in part because of prejudicial language used to describe suicide. Journalists have considerable power to reframe public perceptions about people who are suicidal by using compassionate language that combats harmful stereotypes.

Consider the following recommendations regarding preferred language:

  • Recognize that appropriate terms used for those who die by suicide and those affected by a suicide death change over time; always use currently accepted terms.
  • Avoid the term “committed suicide.” The use of “committed” is no longer acceptable because of its strong association with moral failing or criminality. Instead, use objective terms such as “died by suicide,” “suicide death,” “took his/her/their life,” or “suicide attempt.”          

4. Provide Suicide Prevention Resources

It is possible to report on suicide in a way that cultivates hope by increasing awareness of available supports and encouraging help-seeking for those who struggle with suicidal thoughts or behaviors. Well-developed stories about suicide can reduce misinformation, increase compassion, increase awareness of coping tools, and provide pathways to recovery. Not only can journalists help shape the conversation about suicide, they can use social media to amplify key messages of prevention and recovery. Regardless of reporting approach, all stories about suicide should include easily accessible local and national crisis and suicide prevention resources. ​

Linking resources is one simple but effective way to support those in need.​

  • Include the message that those recovering from a suicide attempt or loss can find support and effective treatments for depression.
  • Highlight protective factors that lower the risk of suicide and coping strategies that can be used by those managing a suicidal crisis.

 

See OhioMHAS Reporting and Social Media Guidelines

 

 

Communities can provide hope to people impacted by a suicide loss.

Suicide is a public health issue that deserves to be responded to in proportion to its impact.