Suicide Narratives in the News Media: What Effect Might They Have and What Can We Do?

General Webinar
Date:  August 4, 2011 - 11:15 am (America/New_York)

The news media do more than report facts, they tell stories about events and people. These narratives can influence public perceptions about issues, including their causes and appropriate solutions. For example, extensive news coverage of suicides among LGBT youth, military service members, and individuals affected by the U.S. economic crisis has created a basic storyline or narrative about how and why suicide happens in each of these groups. While there is no direct research linking suicide narratives to attempted or completed suicide, the existing literature suggests the potential for this type of coverage to have negative effects on vulnerable individuals. This webinar will define the concept of media narratives, summarize relevant research and theory, and suggest approaches for influencing these narratives.

Participants will be able to:

  • Define and give recent examples of suicide narratives in the news media.
  • Describe key findings from research and theory about the potential effects of these narratives on suicide risk.
  • Describe specific actions they can take to influence suicide narratives.

Additional Resources:

Event Presenter(s)

Madelyn Gould, Ph.D., M.P.H., is a Professor in Psychiatry and Epidemiology at Columbia University; a Research Scientist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute; and Deputy Director of Research Training Program in Child Psychiatry, Columbia University/New York State Psychiatric Institute. Her long-standing research interests include the epidemiology of youth suicide, as well as the evaluation of youth suicide prevention interventions. Dr. Gould has received numerous federally funded grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIMH), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for studies examining risk factors for teenage suicide, various aspects of cluster suicides, the impact of the media on suicide, the effect of a peer’s suicide on fellow students, suicide postvention programs in schools, the effect of youth suicide screening programs, the utility of telephone crisis services. She also received a W.T. Grant Faculty Scholar’s Award to examine psychosocial risk factors for teenage suicide and a Distinguished Investigator Award from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to investigate the role of the media in the initiation of suicide clusters. Her participation in numerous state and national government commissions include the 1978 President’s Commission on Mental Health and the Secretary of Health and Human Services’ Task Force on Youth Suicide in 1989. In addition, she authored the chapter on youth suicide prevention for the Surgeon General’s 1999 National Suicide Prevention Strategy, and served as a leadership consultant for the Surgeon General’s Leadership Working Group for the National Suicide Prevention Strategy. Dr. Gould was also a founding member of the New York State Suicide Prevention Council and has been actively engaged in the development of the suicide prevention plan for New York State. She contributed to the Center for Disease Control’s community response plan for suicide clusters (1988) and recommendations to optimize media reporting of suicide (1994), was a member of an international workgroup, sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Annenberg Public Policy Center, which updated these media recommendations in 2001, and most recently, participated in the workgroup that developed the recommendations for new media’s safe reporting of suicide. The recipient of the Shneidman Award for Research from the American Association of Suicidology (AAS) in 1991, the New York State Office of Mental Health Research Award in 2002, and the 2006 American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) Research Award, Dr. Gould has a strong commitment to applying her research to program and policy development.

Ken Norton, LICSW serves as the Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in New Hampshire (NAMI NH). He led the development of the Connect training program for prevention, intervention and postvention, which is listed in the SPRC/AFSP Best Practices Registry for Suicide Prevention. Ken was instrumental in the passage of legislation which established a state Suicide Prevention Council. As a member of that council, he participated in the revision of the New Hampshire State Suicide Prevention Plan. Ken has served on numerous committees and workgroups focused on suicide prevention, intervention and postvention for both civilian and military populations. He serves on the steering committee of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. He was also active in the recent revision of the media recommendations for reporting on suicide. The NH Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers named Ken their “Social Worker of the Year” for 2009. Ken has been personally impacted by suicide and this fuels his passion for suicide prevention efforts.

Linda Langford, Sc.D. has been an associate Center director at Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC) since 1998. She has served as an Evaluation Scientist with the Suicide Prevention Resource Center since 2006, offering training and expert consultation on an array of prevention issues including communications, evaluation, strategic planning, and translating research to practice. Dr. Langford has conducted pre-conference trainings on creating and implementing effective communications campaigns at the last three American Association of Suicidology meetings. She provided an April 2009 briefing on safe and effective suicide prevention messaging and stigma reduction to the Department of Defense Task Force on the Prevention of Suicide by Members of the Armed Forces, co-presented a plenary session about science-based strategic communications at the 2011 DOD/VA Annual Suicide Prevention Conference, and currently serves as a Subject Matter Expert on a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs national stigma reduction campaign led by Reingold, Inc. From 2006 to 2010, she co-directed the Best Practices Registry for Suicide Prevention. She also has been an Associate Center Director for the U.S. Department of Education’s Higher Education Center for Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Violence Prevention since 1998, managing the Center’s evaluation projects for four years and since 2002 directing the Center’s violence prevention initiatives. From 2002 to 2005, she was Principal Investigator for the NIAAA-funded “SNAPPY” project, a pilot evaluation study of a social norms marketing communications campaign. From 1998 to 2005, she was an Assistant Clinical Professor at Tufts University School of Medicine, teaching a core course in strategic planning for health behavior change in the health communications program.

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Webinar Recording