Calling for caution

Media play an important role in reporting broader issues surrounding suicide.

Covering suicide sensitively and accurately can challenge public misconceptions and myths and help to increase community awareness and encourage discussion and prevention activities.

However, discussing the nature of a person’s passing before the cause of death has been confirmed is not only problematic, but can be harmful.

The 2018 passing of Canadian artist, actor and fashion model Rick Genest aka ‘Zombie Boy’ provides a timely reminder of why it is important to avoid publishing unconfirmed news and reports.

An apology issued by Lady Gaga around her comments about the nature and cause of Mr Genest’s death shows a growing understanding of the importance of waiting until the nature of a death has been confirmed by official sources.

It also highlights a growing challenge faced by media when celebrities share news or information that may not be confirmed, accurate or in the public’s interest to know.

Mindframe is reminding media to exercise caution when deciding whether to report a suspected suicide and consider the following:

  • Ensure the death has been confirmed as a suicide by official sources so that the report does not fuel speculation or interfere with ongoing investigations.
  • Where possible, obtain informed consent from appropriate relatives or close friends before identifying the person who has died.
  • Assess whether the story is clearly in the public interest. It can be useful to consult with experts for advice about the impacts of reporting a specific case.
  • Consider how many stories about suicide have been recently covered as research suggests that a succession of stories about suicide can reinforce suicidal behaviour for people who are vulnerable.
  • Limit promotion of public memorials, including online memorial pages, as these may inadvertently reinforce suicide as a desired outcome for people at risk of suicide.
  • Minimise details about the death including method and location, use appropriate language and promote help-seeking information.
  • Disclosing explicit content from a suicide note may impact on vulnerable people, including those bereaved. This information alone, without context, may not tell the whole story.
  • Include relevant help-seeking information with every story.
    While evidence is still emerging, caution should also be applied to the online environment including social media.

Given the instant nature and potential reach of online posts and their impact, it is vital that the death is not reported as suicide until confirmed by official sources.

This may help to reduce speculation which can be harmful and hard to manage.

For more information on reporting on suicide please visit Mindframe website or view the language guidelines & help-seeking information.

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