How Not to Talk about Suicide

February 02, 2018

News Type:  Weekly Spark, Weekly Spark News


Media depictions of suicide can influence behavior. Research has shown, for example, that graphic images of suicide in the news or entertainment media can increase viewers’ suicide risk. To address this contagion effect, experts developed the Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide, based on more than 50 international studies. They suggest avoiding the use of sensationalistic headlines, details related to the location or method of a suicide death, and terms that suggest suicide is widespread. According to Richard McKeon, clinical psychologist and suicide prevention branch chief at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, media reporting should emphasize that suicide is preventable and that people who live through a suicidal crisis can recover. “Obviously, there needs to be attention to suicide because it’s the 10th leading cause of death in America,” he said. “But we don’t want the dimensions of the tragic losses that we experience from suicide to so overwhelm the message that it blocks out the fact that help is available, that people do get through dark times, that there is hope.” Guidance on talking about suicide with a friend or family member is also available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s #BeThe1To campaign lays out five steps for helping someone in distress, including tips on how to communicate with compassion.

Spark Extra! Check out Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide and #BeThe1To.