Communicating about euthanasia and self-harm

Communication and discussion around euthanasia and self-harm should apply media codes of practice and the Mindframe guidelines to minimise harm on vulnerable people.

Available research suggests that media and communications professionals should consider media codes of practice and the Mindframe guidelines when choosing to report or communicate about euthanasia and self-harm.

The following Mindframe recommendations will support media when communicating about euthanasia or self-harm.


Euthanasia

Euthanasia is a complex and legitimate issue being discussed more frequently in the media, as different Australian states and territories are campaigning to be given the right to pass their own laws regarding assisted or voluntary death.

There is no clear evidence that talking about euthanasia more broadly is associated with suicidal behaviour. However, some studies suggest that there may be an association between reporting euthanasia methods and increases in suicide.

Recommendations for reporting euthanasia:

  • Minimise detailed description of methods. Euthanasia methods are often the same as suicide. Removing explicit method details can minimise the risk of copycat behaviour. If the method is the story focus (e.g. legalisation of a method), consider removing explicit details (e.g. dosage and accessibility) and use more general descriptions (e.g. lethal medications).
  • Ensure accuracy and context. To reduce the impact on vulnerable people, it is helpful to distinguish between suicide and euthanasia. Providing context (e.g. terminal illness) may reduce the likelihood of vulnerable people identifying with the story and the risk of copycat behaviour.
  • Minimise use of language associated with suicide. Prominent stories about euthanasia may attract people vulnerable to suicide. Where possible, remove the word ‘suicide’ or ‘assisted suicide’ from the headline, lead or key search terms for the story.
  • Add 24/7 crisis support services. Adding help-seeking information provides options for crisis support to vulnerable people who may be adversely impacted by a euthanasia story.

Self-Harm

Self-harm refers to a person intentionally causing pain or damage to their own body. This behaviour may be motivated as a way of expressing or controlling distressing feelings or thoughts.

Self-harm and suicide are distinct and separate acts although some people who self-harm are at an increased risk of suicide.

Acts of self-harm should always be taken seriously as they can be physically dangerous and may indicate an underlying mental health issue.

Recommendations for reporting on self-harm

  • Minimise detailed description of methods. If it is important to the story, discuss the method in general terms such as ‘self-harm’ or ‘self-injury’. Explicit depictions of self-harm have been linked to copycat behaviour and methods of self-harm are often similar or the same as methods of suicide.
  • Ensure there is accuracy and balance. Balanced reporting that provides insight into the realities of self-harm can increase community understanding and reduce the stigma associated with self-harm.
  • Reduce the prominence of a story. Place the story on the inside pages of a newspaper or further down the order of broadcast reports and remove ‘self-harm’ from headlines.
  • Take care not to perpetuate inaccurate stereotypes. This includes stereotypes such as people self-harming to manipulate others or situations, attract attention, feign suicide, or belong to a subculture as this can lead to negative community attitudes and stigma.
  • Use appropriate language. Take care not to use colloquialisms or terminology out of context. Referring to self-harm as a ‘fad’ or ‘phase’ can minimise the seriousness of the issue. Separate a person from their behaviour, as using labels to describe people as ‘cutters’ or ‘self-harmers’ can increase stigma.
  • Include help-seeking information. This provides support options for people who may be distressed or prompted to seek help following the story.