Safe Media Reporting on Suicide

Written by Monica Matys

Media headlines and reports inform and influence us. When it comes to stories about suicide, how they are communicated can sometimes make the difference between life and death.

“News reports about health issues routinely include a discussion around treatment and recovery, and it is important for suicide-related coverage to be no different,” says Sunnybrook psychiatrist Dr. Mark Sinyor. “Among other strategies, sharing stories of hope and survival can save lives.”

Dr. Sinyor has conducted research showing that safe media reporting is one of the few population level interventions known to prevent suicide. He is the lead author of the Media Guidelines for Reporting on Suicide: 2017 Update of the Canadian Psychiatric Association Policy Paper.

“We know from research findings that some aspects of media coverage, like reporting about celebrities or describing suicide methods, especially in headlines, are all linked to increased suicide rates when shared across the population.”

Dr. Sinyor says this type of coverage can send the wrong message. “We don’t want people who may be struggling or in a crisis to believe that these actions should be copied, or that suicide is inevitable. It isn’t. We need to share stories of resilience and survival to help get the message through that, when you have suicidal thoughts, it means you’re not well and need to get help. Help is available. And there is always hope.”

He says it’s important for media to focus on stories of resilience and suicide prevention, and to offer education about resources such as helplines and mental health services.

Led by Dr. Sinyor and featuring a panel of experts, Sunnybrook recently hosted Canada’s 3rd forum on media and suicide. Dr. Sinyor says the goal was to offer media and journalists some guidance in their important work, not censorship. “We just want to give members of the media the information they need about how their reporting may influence suicide rates, and then ultimately they have to make their own decisions.”

The forum also included Sunnybrook child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Rachel Mitchell, who offered important perspectives on this younger population. “Teenagers are an especially impressionable group, so messages of hope and survival can be really helpful for struggling teens,” she says.

The Sunnybrook event was supported by Syracuse University, the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention and the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

If you or someone you know needs help in an emergency, please call 911 or visit your local emergency department.

Help is also available through community resources:

  • Find a local crisis resource at sunnybrook.ca/gethelp
  • Crisis Services Canada
    • Phone: 24-hour, toll-free 1-833-456-4566
    • Text: 45645 (4:00 p.m. – midnight Eastern Time)
  • Kids Help Phone
    • Phone: 24-hour, toll-free, 1-800-668-6868
    • Text: 686868 (24 hours, 7 days a week)
    • 9-8-8 Suicide Crisis Helpline (across Canada, call or text)

Visit sunnybrook.ca/responsiblereporting to view a quick guide on responsible media reporting on suicide events.

About the author

Monica Matys

Monica Matys is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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