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Writers and Editors (RSS feed)

Covering Suicide

If you are having thoughts of suicide, in the United States

call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 (TALK) or

go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources or 

contact 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals in the United States.


For resources outside the United States, go here: International Suicide Prevention Helplines

Apply a public health frame to report responsibly and effectively on firearm suicide (Kaitlin Washburn, Covering Health, AHCJ, 7-13-23) Firearm suicides represent more than half of overall gun deaths every year in the U.S. And that ratio can be worse in certain areas — states with higher rates of firearm ownership in the home have higher rates of suicide overall compared to states with lower firearm ownership rates, according to the nonprofit Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. An effective suicide prevention method is the safe storage of firearms, which means storing guns unloaded, locked up and separate from ammunition. Best practices and guide for reporters. See especially:
---The Suicide Reporting Toolkit For Journalists and Journalism Educators
---Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide
---CDC page on suicide prevention
---Best Practices For Covering Suicide (988Lifeline.org)
---Media as Partners in Suicide Prevention (The American Association of Suicidology)
How Should the Media Cover Suicides? Some Answers (Jamie Ducharme, Time, 7-30-18) In June 2018, fashion designer Kate Spade and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain died by suicide just days apart. The same week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report about rising suicide rates across the country. More recently were stories about a study linking climate change and rising temperatures to a potential increase in deaths by suicide.
      "Researchers report that stories about celebrity suicides, headlines that included information about how a suicide was completed and statements that made suicide seem inevitable were all correlated with suicide contagion. (Other research backs this up: In the four months after Robin Williams’ highly publicized 2014 death by suicide, one study found a 10% increase in suicides across the U.S.) Meanwhile, negative descriptions of suicide and messages of hope were associated with a protective effect, though neither reached statistical significance, perhaps because they appeared in articles so infrequently."
      The framing of a story is important, too, says Dr. Mark Sinyor, a new study’s lead investigator and a psychiatrist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, in an email to TIME. “Ideally, journalists would not treat suicide as an entertainment story but as what it truly is: a health story,” Sinyor says.

      “Suicide invariably arises from treatable mental disorders. Most people who experience suicidal crises find paths to resilience, and there is no reason anyone has to die by suicide.”

How The New York Times handled life-or-death ethical issues while reporting on a popular suicide website (Barbara Allen, Poynter, 12-16-21) The ethical issues running throughout The New York Times’ recent piece, “Where the Despairing Log On, and Learn Ways to Die,” were numerous and complicated. That’s why the team behind it never stopped talking about them.
     Megan Twohey and Gabriel J.X. Dance said they have both had experience and interest in reporting on online harm, especially where children and young people were concerned. “It wasn’t just that this was a site that was providing explicit instructions and methods on how to die by suicide,” Twohey said in a recent interview with Poynter. “It was an interactive forum.”
      Dance and Twohey both said the more they explored, the more they felt a journalistic and moral obligation to report on the site, which they said gets six million visitors a month from around the world — four times as many views as the leading national suicide prevention website, Twohey said. So when they found out about a popular suicide support website, they dove in.The team relied on advice and conversations with experts, veterans, editors and each other.
     Twohey said she was struck by the fact that despite the site’s popularity, many families, law enforcement, mental health professionals and even coroners had never heard of the site or the preservative....In the end, it was most important to Dance and Twohey that their reporting shone a light on a dark corner of the internet.
      Twohey said that as they got closer to publication, she and Dance met almost daily with suicide experts, who advised them to make sure they weren’t glamorizing anything, that stories included true messages of hope instead of only despair, and that people usually pull out of suicidal thoughts. “There were these broader questions that we were grappling with, honestly, every single day in the reporting of this."


Where the Despairing Log On, and Learn Ways to Die (Megan Twohey and Gabriel J.X. Dance, NY Times interactive, 12-9-21) Most suicide websites are about prevention. One started in March 2018 — by two shadowy figures calling themselves Marquis and Serge — provides explicit directions on how to die. It has the trappings of popular social media, a young audience and explicit content on suicide that other sites don’t allow. It is linked to a long line of lives cut short. Participants routinely nudge one another along as they share suicide plans, posting reassuring messages, thumbs-up and heart emojis, and praise for those who follow through: “brave,” “a legend,” “a hero.” More than 500 members — a rate of more than two a week — wrote “goodbye threads” announcing how and when they planned to end their lives, and then never posted again.
       "The suicide rate has risen over the past 20 years in the United States. About 45,000 people take their own lives each year — more than die from traffic accidents. (That figure does not count the hundreds of physician-assisted deaths in the nine states where they are legal and restricted to the terminally ill.)"
For many people, suicidal thoughts will eventually pass, experts say. Treatment and detailed plans to keep safe can help. But clinicians and researchers warn that people are much more likely to attempt suicide if they learn about methods and become convinced that it’s the right thing to do. The suicide site facilitates both. In the site’s written rules, assisting and encouraging suicide were prohibited, while providing “factual information” and “emotional support” was not. In practice, some members urged others on, whether with gentle reassurance or with more force.

Surviving Suicide (Anthony D. Smith, Psychology Today, 11-10-20) Suicide is often a surprise, leaving survivors wondering, "What did I miss?" and having to manage the insult of guilt while managing the injury of grieving. "The title of the book But I Didn't Say Goodbye: Helping Families After a Suicide (by Barbara Rubel) gets at another poignant difference. It's an unadvertised, abrupt ending, and you can feel like you were snubbed, creating more intense anger than usual grief. Lastly, some families, especially in cultures concerned with honor, may view a relative's suicide as shameful and stigmatizing and not discuss it, period. In return, they don't even get to experience simple catharsis and release some mental pressure, let alone process it to move on. The grief lingers and festers, evolving into a chronic issue that takes over their lives." The Centers for Disease Control (2020) reported that in 2018 there were in excess of 48,000 suicides in the United States. "That's a lot of people left hurting." 

Covering Suicide — Attempted, Completed and Otherwise (Al Tompkins, Poynter, 9-27-06) "Almost 4 times as many Americans died by suicide during the Vietnam War era as died in the course of military action.... Whites kill themselves at a much higher rate than blacks.... Hispanic youth are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population and account for one fourth of all Hispanic suicide deaths.Hispanic males were almost six times as likely to die by suicide as Hispanic females, representing 85 percent of the 8,744 Hispanic suicides between 1997 and 2001.... Suicide is usually a complicated response to overwhelming problems as opposed to a simple, unplanned reaction to one life challenge. In others words, it is not as simple as saying “he was unhappy with last week’s game” or some such explanation."

Responsible Media Coverage Saves Lives (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, or SAVE) 'Media and online coverage of suicide should be informed by using best practices. Some suicide deaths may be newsworthy; however, the way media covers suicide can influence behavior negatively by contributing to contagion or positively by encouraging help-seeking. Suicide Contagion or “Copycat Suicide” occurs when one or more suicides are reported in a way that contributes to another suicide.'
Suicide reporting guidelines 1. Exclude suicide as cause of death
2. Use appropriate language
3. Avoid blame
4. Include Education and Help
Why Suicide Reporting Guidelines Matter (NAMI) "The fact is: how we talk about, write about and report on suicide matters. For someone already considering suicide, it’s possible to change their thoughts into action by exposing them to detailed suicide-related content, including graphic depictions or explanations of the death or revealing the method used."

Reporting About Suicide The Trevor Project (CDC, National Prevention Information Network) Recommendations for reporting on suicide, 2017) Instead of X, do Y (an excellent chart). For example, instead of Big or sensationalistic headlines, or prominent placement--(e.g., “Kurt Cobain Used Shotgun to Commit Suicide”), inform the audience without sensationalizing the suicide and minimize prominence (e.g., “Kurt Cobain Dead at 27”)

Medical bills related to suicide aren’t covered by some insurers, despite rules (Michelle Andrews, Kaiser Health News and PBS NewsHour, 2-18-14) Dealing with the aftermath of a suicide or attempted suicide is stressful enough. But some health plans make a harrowing experience worse by refusing to cover medical costs for injuries that are related to suicide—even though experts say that in many cases such exclusions aren’t permitted under federal law. Yet patients or their loved ones often don’t realize that.
      "Under the 2006 federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) rules, employment-based health plans can’t discriminate against an individual member by denying eligibility for benefits or charging more because they have a particular medical condition such as diabetes or depression. Insurers, however, are allowed to deny coverage for all members for injuries caused by a specific activity or for those that arise from a particular cause spelled out in the policy. These are called “source-of-injury” exclusions."
Suicide Contagion and the Reporting of Suicide: Recommendations from a National Workshop (CDC) Detailed recommendations for the press.

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