Responsible Reporting of Suicide Saves Lives


From the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Recommendations for Reporting on 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" is a term that describes how suicide can spread in communities as a result of how the news of a suicide is shared. When a group is talking about a suicide, some vulnerable members of the group who hear sensationalized versions of the news experience an increased risk for suicidal thoughts and actions. People who are vulnerable and at risk for suicide already are most affected. When someone is struggling with hopelessness and intense emotional pain, hearing that similar feelings led someone else to suicide can compound the hopelessness. And then hearing about the method of the suicide can create a plan where there was none. In essence, a seed of hopelessness can flower into a plan for action.

The way we share news of suicides must shift focus in order to minimize the risk for suicide contagion. Members of the media, bloggers, and public commentators need education on suicide reporting best practices. When tragic news is shared with the public, all of us who are talking need to be mindful that some of the viewers or listeners are in deep emotional pain and are at risk to be harmed by the stories they are hearing. News stories and public discussions must always offer hope and help, rather than sensationalize hopelessness.

With teen suicide on the rise, and some reporting that fails to follow the recommended guidelines, parents may need guidance on talking about the news of a suicide with their child. Suicide is a topic many parents are afraid to discuss. They are afraid to plant an idea in the mind of their child. But discussing aspects such as, "I am always here for you. You can tell me anything. If you or any of your friends are ever hopeless, I will help you get the assistance you need to cope with those emotions." Teens also need to know that suicidal threats from peers should always be reported to a caring adult. Teens can't handle a suicide crisis in secret within their peer circle; adult supervision is a must.

The act of suicide is an attempt to escape intense, unbearable psychological pain - whether that pain is chronic, or situational (like a social rejection or a break-up, or loss of a job). Using substances, such as alcohol, increases the immediate risk in vulnerable people.

 Warning signs from the AFSP:

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying 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.

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
Posted on June 11, 2018 .