Suicide and the Media
Samaritans UK/ROI believes responsible discussion of suicide on the internet and in the media can lead to a better understanding of suicidal behaviour and the value of expression feelings. 29% of people in the UK know someone who has taken their own life, and enabling someone to talk openly about suicidal thoughts is an important step in breaking down the taboo.
However, glamorising suicide or providing "how to" type advice about suicide on the internet, as in other forms of media, is potentially very dangerous. Although there is little research as yet to prove that there is a link between people visiting suicide chat rooms and taking their own lives, research carried out into the portrayal of suicide in traditional media, such as television, magazines and newspapers shows that there is a direct link between the way in which suicide is discussed and vulnerable people's behaviour. A number of recent cases highlighted in the media seem to indicate that there is a link, but research needs to be carried out to establish the extent and exact nature of it.
Anyone in emotional distress, or actively thinking about suicide is vulnerable and often looking for help in any form. Samaritans strongly encourages anyone publishing material about suicide to follow these guidelines:
- Do not show or explain the method of suicide
- Do not emphasise potential positive results of killing oneself
- Do not trivialise suicide or portray it as an easy way out
The internet is an important medium for discussion about suicide and for providing support. But it can be difficult to know what the motives of people who are visiting suicide chat rooms or web sites are and whether they are being honest in their contributions. Vulnerable people could be influenced by people who are in these cyber spaces for another reason than seeking help or supporting others.
The UK Suicide Act of 1961 states that is illegal to aid, abet, counsel or procure the suicide of another and Samaritans strongly encourages anyone publishing material on the internet to do so in a responsible way.
Samaritans UK/ROI offers confidential, emotional support by email on email@example.com. Launched in 2002, the number of contacts received by Samaritans email service in 2003 was nearly 100,000, an increase of 38% from 2002. The Samaritans and Befrienders websites are a source of information and support for anyone who wants information about the issues of suicide and how to get help. Evidence suggest that there are many benefits to using the internet as a way of providing support for people in distress.
- The anonymity of communicating by email means that people generally feel less frightened of being judged or rejected than in face-to-face circumstances or through speaking on the phone.
- Many people who cannot access help by phone because they are worried about being heard or the phone number appearing on the bill can get in touch using email.
- Online support helps people in distress to imagine the person answering the email in the most beneficial way possible. For example, those who would prefer someone younger to be answering the email can imagine the volunteer in that way, whilst those who would prefer someone older can imagine someone like that.
- It is recognised that writing is, in itself, a useful tool. The process of writing something down enables people to focus fully on their own feelings without worrying about taking up another person's time or saying the wrong thing.
Samaritans UK/ROI currently has a relationship with the ISP Wanadoo, whereby when anyone types a term into its search engine relating to suicide (e.g. suicide, or I want to kill myself), Samaritans UK/ROI is given a prominent advertisement style listing above their other search results. Samaritans UK/ROI has now replicated this relationship with AOL and we also very much hope that other ISPs and search engine organisations, such as Yahoo and MSN follow suit.
For information on Samaritans UK/ROI and other guidelines on the media portrayal of suicide, visit the Suicide and the Media section
The following list of resources is also available from the University of Oxford, Centre for Suicide Research.
- Media Guidelines: Portrayals of Suicide
A downloadable PDF file from Samaritans
- The Media Monitoring Project: A baseline description of how the Australian media report and portray suicide and mental health and illness
A downloadable PDF reporty produced by the Australian Government
- Preventing suicide: a resource pack for media professionals
WHO publication (PDF file). Also available in French, Polish, Portuguese and Serbian.
- Reporting on Suicide: Recommendations for the Media
US guidelines with examples of good and bad reporting
- Reporting suicide and mental illness: a resource for media professionals
Australian online resource, including PDF of the publication
- Suicide and the Media
Various resources for journalists from the MediaWise Trust
- Suicide and the Media. The reporting and portrayal in the media. A resource
Link to PDF file from New Zealand Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy
- Suicide contagion
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention summary
- Suicide Sensitive Journalism Handbook
PDF of handbook from Sri Lanka, in association with PressWise Trust