Communicating about a suicide

Suicide is a complex public health issue and media professionals are often faced with questions about whether to report and how to reference suicide safely.

For more than two decades Mindframe has supported the Australian media to safely and accurately communicate about suicide, reinforcing the need to proceed with caution.

Reporting and articles, which don't reference the Mindframe guidelines or apply specific media codes of practice for safe reporting have the potential to cause harm.

Mindframe's guidelines for media has specific recommendations when communicating about a suicide death.

Decide whether to report on a suicide death

  • 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 run recently as research suggests that a succession of stories about suicide can reinforce suicidal behaviour for people who are vulnerable.

Reduce the prominence of the story

Research shows people who are vulnerable to suicide may be drawn to stories about suicide and that the prominence of these stories may increase risk.

Where possible, consider minimising the prominence of a story. This can be done by placing a story on the inside pages of a newspaper or further down the order of broadcast reports.

It is also preferable to avoid using the word ‘suicide’ in a headline and key search terms as these can attract vulnerable people to the story.

Media industry codes set a standard for reporting, portraying or communicating about suicide in print, broadcast, international, social and online media.

Implement media industry codes when communicating about suicide.

Modify or remove information that may increase risk

  • Avoid disclosing explicit content from a suicide note as it may impact on vulnerable people.
  • Limit promotion of public memorials, including online memorial pages, as these may inadvertently reinforce suicide as a desired outcome for people at risk.
  • Choose general images of the person rather than images of the funeral, grieving families or memorials as these may glorify the death. Always ask for permission from the family before using images.
  • Minimise details about the death including method and location, use appropriate language and promote help-seeking information.
Take care when interviewing family and friends

Stories about suicide and suicide bereavement can provide opportunities for increased awareness and discussion about the impact of suicide. However, people bereaved by suicide may be vulnerable or at risk of suicide themselves.

In the period immediately after a death, grieving family and friends may have reduced capacity to consent to an interview or to consider the short-term and long-term impact of their involvement. Respect people’s grief and privacy and consider delaying interviews with people in these situations.

Apply specific cultural considerations

  • Naming or depicting an image of a person who has died can cause great distress in some communities. Seek advice before using the name or image of an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person who is deceased.
  • Place consumer advice before a broadcast to alert audiences that the program may feature someone who is deceased.
  • Remember that no one person can speak for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Stories benefit from canvassing a range of comments from the mental health and suicide prevention sectors and those with connections to the local community.
  • Be aware that terms used for suicide and mental illness may not exist or translate easily when interviewing people from a culturally and linguistically diverse background.

Reporting a celebrity suicide

Celebrity suicides are newsworthy and will almost always be reported. Coverage of suicide by a celebrity can glamourise and normalise suicide, with research showing it can prompt imitation by vulnerable people.

  • Ensure the death is confirmed by official sources as a suicide before reporting. This may help reduce speculation.
  • Ensure the story does not glamourise suicide or provide specific details about the method or location of death. Focus on the wastefulness of the death, its impact on family and friends and general risk factors for suicide.
  • Be mindful that reports about the death may come up in other contexts (another celebrity death) or around a significant date (movie release, anniversary, etc). Care should be taken each time the death is reported or referred to.
Minimise detail about method and location

Studies show that explicit or technical descriptions and images of methods or locations used for suicide have been linked to increased rates of suicide. View the method and location recommendations.

Place the story in context and ensure accuracy and balance

  • Take care not to imply that the death was spontaneous or due to a single event, as research suggests most people who die by suicide have underlying risk factors, including mental health issues, a drug-related illness or other social influences.
  • It’s important that the media are able to present the most accurate information about suicide to the community.
  • A story may be improved by obtaining the views of suicide prevention experts, who can assist by providing comment, accurate interpretation of statistics and placing situations or campaigns in context.