Safe reporting guidelines for media
Join the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) in pledging to cover suicide-related deaths through safe reporting practices to protect those who are most vulnerable, respect surviving families, and save lives.
Suicide is a public health matter and most often a result of a mental health condition in combination with other risk factors. Research shows that how we talk about suicide in the media, can influence the health outcomes of those who are vulnerable and reduce the risk of contagion, when exposure to information about a death by suicide influences others who are at risk for suicide.
AFSP is available for consultation on related questions at [email protected]. You can also consult the Associated Press Style Book entry on “Suicide” for similar guidance.
AFSP’s Top 10 Tips for Reporting on Suicide
- Language: Do not refer to a suicide attempt as “successful,” “unsuccessful” or as a “failed attempt,” and do not use the word “committed.” Instead, use “attempted suicide,” “made an attempt,” “died by suicide” or “took his/her life.”
- Sensationalizing: Inform the audience without sensationalizing the suicide. This means excluding images or graphic depictions of a suicide death, such as details, notes, and location of death, and not mentioning the method used. Instead focus on the lives lived, any mental health or general struggles they had been public about, as well as positive aspects of the individual.
- Causes: Avoid reporting that a suicide death was caused by a single event, such as a job loss or divorce, since research shows no one takes their life for a single reason, but rather a combination of factors. Reporting a “cause” leaves the public with an overly simplistic and misleading understanding of suicide, and promotes the myth that suicide is the direct result of circumstances and is not preventable.
- Placement: Do not feature suicide stories on front pages of newspapers or main landing pages of online media and do not mention the word “suicide” or method in the headline or in the opening paragraphs of stories. This applies to broadcast. Prominent placement of the word suicide and method has shown to lead to contagion (or copycat suicides).
- Magnitude: Research shows suicide is a complex health issue. Therefore, especially when the individual has been open about experiencing a mental health condition, it is helpful to frame the death in terms of a tragic health outcome. Do not refer to suicide as an “epidemic,” or “skyrocketing” as this has shown to cause contagion. When referencing suicide as a “leading cause of death,” include the most recent rates to ground people in facts.
- Hope and Help: Show that help is available and recovery is possible. Include hopeful messages for the public that support and treatment – including therapy and medications – are available for mental health conditions. Always provide helpline information – “If you are in crisis, please call, text or chat with the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988, or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.”
- Interviews: Avoid interviewing suicide loss survivors in the immediate aftermath of the loss. It is recommended that they be at least two years removed from their loss to ensure they can tell their story in an empowered manner. Survivors of loss who are emotional and showing distress can negatively affect others who are vulnerable to suicide or are survivors of suicide loss.
- Celebrities: Report on celebrities or people of note dying by suicide with caution. Glamorizing suicide deaths may inadvertently glorify suicidal behavior and present suicide as a normalized solution to pain or distress. When possible, include the celebrity’s struggles, health, or mental health experiences as a way to emphasize the fact that all humans have mental health and can struggle. Avoid speculation when the cause of death is unknown.
- Social Media: Orygen developed social media guidelines for communities and for youth. Additionally, AFSP Chief Medical Officer Dr. Moutier, with other experts, outlined guidance that builds on current safe reporting guidelines that includes providing content warnings, not sharing news stories that do not adhere to safe reporting guidelines, and monitoring replies.
- Images: Under no circumstances should photographs or video of the scene of the suicide – including images of the deceased or notes – or the location be featured in news coverage. Research shows these can trigger suicidal behavior in vulnerable people. Additionally, care should be taken to not use any imagery that portrays subjects in sadness or pain as these can exacerbate feelings of hopelessness in those exposed to them.
For more information on reporting on suicide, including research that supports these guidelines, visit http://reportingonsuicide.org.
Safe Reporting Includes Educating
It is up to each one of us to do more to educate the public about suicide prevention. We can prevent tragic deaths by raising awareness of mental health and normalizing asking for help. We encourage media to share supportive resources in any stories related to mental health and suicide. AFSP has created a carousel graphic with the following tips that can be embedded into stories with the code below:
- Learn the signs of someone who may be at risk for suicide. Often there are changes in behavior such as mood swings, angry outbursts, or loss of interest in activities they love.
- Reach out to someone who you think may be struggling. Trust your gut if you are concerned. Ask directly if they have thoughts of ending their life – research shows this is helpful and does not make them susceptible to the idea.
- Connect those who are struggling to help. Share the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline as well as general and other resources for minoritized communities.
Carousel Embed Code
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