Working with the media

Youth suicide is a newsworthy event that can have far-reaching effects. Research shows that media coverage of suicide puts youth under the age of 24 at risk for suicidal behaviour due to the increased likelihood of contagion or ‘copycat’ suicides.1

However, the media can play an important role in raising awareness, reducing stigma, and increasing help-seeking behaviour and the visibility of services.2 3 In order to work effectively with the media, communities need both proactive and reactive strategies, which include both approaching the media for coverage and responding appropriately to media requests and reports.4 Consider the following strategies for working successfully with the media:5

  • Create your own media policy.
  • Develop key messages to convey.
  • Identify and train spokespeople, including professionals, consumers and caregivers.

Evidence also suggests that media use of guidelines when reporting suicide can reduce the rate of contagion.6 The following guidelines for media reporting suicide were adapted from the Canadian Association of Suicide Prevention (CASP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Avoid

Convey

  • details of the method
  • the word 'suicide' in the headline
  • printing a photo of the deceased
  • admiration of the deceased
  • the idea that suicide is unexplainable
  • repetitive, excessive or front page coverage
  • exciting reporting
  • romanticized or simplistic reasons for the suicide
  • approval of the suicide
  • alternatives to the suicide (i.e., treatment)
  • community resource information for those with suicidal ideation
  • examples of positive outcomes of a suicidal crisis
  • warning signs of suicidal behaviour
  • how to approach a suicidal person

How to talk about suicide

Often, youth and families are asked to share their personal story with the media. This can be a healing experience and can help inspire others, but it can also leave you feeling vulnerable. It’s important to think through the risks and benefits of sharing your story before you do so.

 

Additional resources

How to Share your Story Safely by Creating Boundaries was created for youth by the New York State Foster Care Youth Leadership Advisory Team as part of its Youth in Progress series.

Mindset: Reporting on Mental Health was created as a field guide for journalists by the Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma.

Suicide and Mental Illness in the Media  was created for the media by the Australian Government’s Mindframe National Media Initiative. In addition to this reference book, they also created quick reference cards on issues to consider when working with the media.

 

 

  • 1. Gould, M.S., Greenberg, T., Velting, D.M., & Shaffer, D. (2003). Youth suicide risk and preventive interventions: A review of the past 10 years. Journal of American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 42, 386-405.
  • 2. Gould, M., Jamieson, P., & Romer, D. (2003). Media contagion and suicide among the young. American Behavioral Scientist, 46, 1269-1284.
  • 3. De Leo, D., Cerin, E., Spathonis, K., & Burgis, S. (2005). Lifetime risk of suicide ideation and attempts in an Australian community: Prevalence, suicidal process, and help-seeking behaviour. Journal of Affective Disorders, 86, 215-225.
  • 4. Mindframe National Media Initiative. (2009). Reporting suicide and mental illness: A mindframe resource for media professionals. Retrieved from: http://www.mindframe-media.info/home/resource-downloads/mental-health-and-suicide-prevention-resources
  • 5. Mindframe National Media Initiative. (2009). Reporting suicide and mental illness: A mindframe resource for media professionals. Retrieved from: http://www.mindframe-media.info/for-mediaf
  • 6. Gould, M., Jamieson, P., & Romer, D. (2003). Media contagion and suicide among the young. American Behavioral Scientist, 46, 1269-1284.