Why reporting on mental ill-health and suicide is complex

It’s never been more important to ensure stories involving mental ill-health and suicide avoid oversimplification.

Speculating around the impact of one, or a series of events on the mental health of a collective group or specific individual can be harmful as it oversimplifies what is a highly complex issue.

There is no single reason for or experience of mental ill-health just as is there one single causal event or condition behind someone taking their life via suicide.

According to Everymind Acting Program Manager, Sara Bartlett it is incredibly important to remind the public that mental ill-health and suicide do not always go hand in hand and everyone’s experience of mental ill-health is different.

It is also important to ensure these matters are not oversimplified in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Thoughts of suicide can happen to anyone, including those who have no history of mental illness,” Ms Bartlett said.

“While people living with mental illness can sometimes experience suicidal ideation, it is not a reflection of everyone’s experience with mental illness.

“It can be incredibly stigmatising for those experiencing mental ill-health to see coverage, which firstly speculates on the mental health of an individual and oversimplifies their experience including presenting suicide as an outcome.

“Suicide is not inevitable and can be prevented, which is why it is so important amplify and include help-seeking information and services in any content which may distress vulnerable individuals.”

It is important to note that ongoing traumatic events or the death of individuals can have a profound impact on whole communities and may last for a period of time, which is why responsible reporting is vital.

Validating grief and loss for the family, friends and broader community in a specific instance or wider event is paramount when it comes to minimising stigma and promoting help-seeking behaviour.

Responsible coverage which helps to discuss the complexity of suicide and mental ill-health as issues broadly as well as in relation to specific events or individuals can help to change public misconceptions, challenge myths and encourage community discussion about it.

Reminder tips on covering suicide and mental ill-health:

  • Avoid speculating or pointing to one casual event or issue behind individual or group’s experience of mental ill-health Avoid suggesting mental illness as a casual factor in suicide
  • Avoid speculating on cause of death by suicide until confirmed by police or coronial authorities
  • Always include help-seeking information in any stories that discuss loss, impact of loss or sudden death of an individual.

Please explore the Mindframe website to learn more on safe media reporting, portrayal and communication about suicide and mental ill-health.

Are you an Australian media professional?

Sign up to receive Mindframe Media Alerts to support safe reporting.

Are you an Australian media professional?

Sign up to receive Mindframe Media Alerts to support safe reporting.