Reporting Suicide

Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide©

Developed in collaboration with: American Association of Suicidology, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Annenberg Public Policy Center, Associated Press Managing Editors, Canterbury Suicide Project – University of Otago, Christchurch, New Zealand, Columbia University Department of Psychiatry,, Emotion Technology, International Association for Suicide Prevention Task Force on Media and Suicide, Medical University of Vienna, National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Institute of Mental Health, National Press Photographers Association, New York State Psychiatric Institute, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, Suicide Prevention Resource Center, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UCLA School of Public Health, Community Health Sciences.

Important points for covering suicide

• More than 50 research studies worldwide have found that certain types of news coverage can increase the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable individuals. The magnitude of the increase is related to the amount, duration and prominence of coverage.

• Risk of additional suicides increases when the story explicitly describes the suicide method, uses dramatic/ graphic headlines or images, and repeated/extensive coverage sensationalizes or glamorizes a death.

• Covering suicide carefully, even briefly, can change public misperceptions and correct myths, which can encourage those who are vulnerable or at risk to seek help.

Suicide Contagion or “Copycat Suicide” occurs when one or more suicides are reported in a way that contributes to another suicide.

Do this:

Inform the audience without sensationalizing the suicide and minimize prominence (e.g., “Kurt Cobain Dead at 27”). • Use school/work or family photo; include hotline logo or local crisis phone numbers.

• Carefully investigate the most recent CDC data and use non-sensational words like “rise” or “higher.”

• Most, but not all, people who die by suicide exhibit warning signs. Include the “Warning Signs” and “What to Do” sidebar (from p. 2) in your article if possible.

• “A note from the deceased was found and is being reviewed by the medical examiner.”

Report as a public health issue.

• Seek advice from suicide prevention experts.

• Describe as “died by suicide” or “completed”    or “killed him/herself.”

Instead of this:

• Big or sensationalistic headlines, or prominent placement (e.g., “Kurt Cobain Used Shotgun to Commit Suicide”).

• Including photos/videos of the location or method of death, grieving family, friends, memorials or funerals.

• Describing recent suicides as an “epidemic, ” “skyrocketing,” or other strong terms.

• Describing a suicide as inexplicable or “without warning.”

• “John Doe left a suicide note saying…”.

• Investigating and reporting on suicide similar to reporting on crimes.

• Quoting/interviewing police or first responders about the causes of suicide.

• Referring to suicide as “successful,” “unsuccessful” or a “failed attempt.”

Helpful side-bar for stories

Avoid Misinformation and Offer Hope

• Suicide is complex. There are almost always multiple causes, including psychiatric illnesses, that may not have been recognized or treated. However, these illnesses are treatable.

• Refer to research findings that mental disorders and/or substance abuse have been found in 90% of people who have died by suicide.

• Avoid reporting that death by suicide was preceded by a single event, such as a recent job loss, divorce or bad grades. Reporting like this leaves the public with an overly simplistic and misleading understanding of suicide.

• Consider quoting a suicide prevention expert on causes and treatments. Avoid putting expert opinions in a sensationalistic context.

• Use your story to inform readers about the causes of suicide, its warning signs, trends in rates and recent treatment advances.

• Add statement(s) about the many treatment options available, stories of those who overcame a suicidal crisis and resources for help.

• Include up-to-date local/national resources where readers/viewers can find treatment, information and advice that promotes help-seeking.

Warning Signs of Suicide

• alking about wanting to die

• ooking for a way to kill oneself

• alking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose

• alking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain

• alking about being a burden to others

• Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs

• cting anxious, agitated or recklessly

• leeping too little or too much

• Withdrawing or feeling isolated

• howing rage or talking about seeking revenge

• isplaying extreme mood swings

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. Warning signs are associated with suicide but may not be what causes a suicide.

Suggestions for Online Media, Message Boards, Bloggers & Citizen Journalists

• Bloggers, citizen journalists and public commentators can help reduce risk of contagion with posts or links to treatment services, warning signs and suicide hotlines.

• Include stories of hope and recovery, information on how to overcome suicidal thinking and increase coping skills.

• The potential for online reports, photos/videos and stories to go viral makes it vital that online coverage of suicide follow site or industry safety recommendations.

• Social networking sites often become memorials to the deceased and should be monitored for hurtful comments and for statements that others are considering suicide. Message board guidelines, policies and procedures could support removal of inappropriate and/or insensitive posts.


If someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide:

• Do not leave the person alone

• Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt

• Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255)

• Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-TALK (8255)

A free, 24/7 service

that can provide

suicidal persons or

those around them

with support,

information and

local resources.

MOREINFORMATIONANDRESOURCESAT: or the following local resources:

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