Issues to consider when communicating about suicide
- Why should I run the story? Consider whether the story needs to be run at all. A succession of stories can normalise suicidal behaviour.
- Language. Check the language you use does not glamorise or sensationalise suicide e.g. consider using ‘non-fatal’ not ‘unsuccessful’; or ‘cluster of deaths’ rather than ‘suicide epidemic’ and limit the use of the term ‘suicide’.
- Don’t be explicit about method. Most members of the media follow a code that the method and location of suicide is not described, displayed or photographed. If it is important to the story, discuss the method and location in general terms only.
- Suicide by a prominent figure. A story about the suicide of a prominent person can glamorise the nature of their death or lead to further suicidal behaviour. Harm should be minimised wherever possible.
- Positioning the story. Some evidence suggests a link between prominent placement of suicide stories and further suicidal behaviour. Position the story on the inside pages of a paper, or further down in the order of reports in TV and radio news.
- Interviewing the bereaved. The bereaved are often at risk of suicide themselves. Be sensitive to those who knew the person and allow community members time to grieve before participating in a story.
- Naming the deceased. In many communities the depiction or mention of a person who has passed away can cause great distress, as can showing their image. Consult with community members or the family about appropriate language and visuals and place a warning on the program.
- Place the story in context. Reporting the underlying causes of suicide can help to increase understanding in the community. The story may be improved by canvassing both expert comment and the opinions of the local Indigenous community.
- Include contacts for support services. Include contact details for medical and support services. This provides immediate support to those who may have been distressed by your story.
Issues to consider when communicating about social and emotional wellbeing
- Privacy. Media guidelines stress the right to privacy. Does the fact that this person is experiencing mental health concerns really enhance the story? Are your sources appropriate? What is the possible impact of disclosure on the person’s life, especially in small communities?
- Language and Stereotypes. Terms such as ‘lunatic’, ‘schizo’, ‘crazies’, ‘maniac’, and ‘psycho’, are still used by the media out of context.
- Context. Remember that no one person can speak for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. A story may be improved by canvassing both expert comment and the opinions of the local community.
- Interviewing. Interviewing a person with lived or living experience of mental health concerns requires sensitivity and discretion. Follow CBAA codes of conduct on appropriate interviewing.
- Include contacts for support services. Include phone numbers and contact details for medical and support services. This provides immediate support for those who may have been prompted to seek help.
- Most people with mental illness are able to recover with treatment and support. Referring to someone experiencing mental health concerns as a victim is outdated. Mental health concerns are not a life sentence.
First Nations media has an important role to play in influencing social attitudes towards, and perceptions of, suicide and social and emotional wellbeing within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
Most Australian media outlets report these issues responsibly and sensitively.
For more than two decades, Australian community broadcasters have been actively working with Mindframe and the suicide prevention and mental health sector, in helping to promote suicide prevention and address stigma and discrimination associated with suicide and mental health concerns.