MEDIAS

Suicide is an important public health issue. As a media professional, although it may be difficult to find the right way to do so, you are occasionally asked to report on suicides.

Suicide is a sensitive subject and it needs to be reported on responsibly by the media. Some media coverage of suicide (excessive detail, graphic narrative and images) can be unsafe and increase the risk for subsequent suicides or related behaviours. Here is a practical guide about how to report safely on suicide and suicide prevention.

Sensitive and responsible media coverage can help save lives.

What is recommended

(According to the World Health Organization)

  • Encourage people to seek help and provide information on available resources, especially resources specializing in suicide prevention or mental health. In Quebec, the 1-866-APPELLE (277-3553) suicide prevention hotline is the most recommended resource because it is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week across the province.
  • Focus on signs of distress. Knowing the warning signs may allow someone to help a person in distress. Suicide rarely happens without warning.
  • Consider the impacts of suicide and exposure of it on family and friends. Consider the grief and healing of the people impacted by the loss.
  • Educate about suicide, including warning signs, the effects of suicide attempts, and where to get help or more information.
  • Where possible, tell a balanced narrative and spread hope by having people who managed to overcome distress with professional help tell their story.

Acting on the possible contagion effect

  • Be careful about the potential risk of contagion effect (identification with the deceased), which is a situation where others recognize themselves in the deceased and see suicide as a solution to their problems or use the same method to take their life. To do this:
    • DO NOT give a simplistic explanation. Suicide is a multifactorial problem. It is typically the result of a complex interaction between many individual and environmental factors (mental health issues, substance abuse issues, interpersonal conflicts, etc.). If we point to a single cause, it could have a deleterious effect on people with the same problem or experiences;
    • Do not publish suicide photos or notes;
    • Avoid giving too many details about the suicide (e.g. location and method). Since some places are traditionally associated with suicide, publicizing them may raise the risk of death by suicide in these locations;
    • Do not portray suicide as an understandable solution or give the impression that the person is now at peace or that suicide was inevitable;
  • Avoid glorifying the deceased or sensationalizing the news, particularly when the person is a celebrity. Glorification (e.g., portraying people as martyrs or objects of public admiration) may suggest that society admires suicidal behaviour in certain conditions.
  • SHORTLY AFTER THE SUICIDE OF TV PERSONALITY GAÉTAN GIROUARD IN 1999, THERE WAS AN INCREASE IN THE NUMBER OF SUICIDES. THERE IS A LINK BETWEEN THOSE DEATHS AND THE WAY IN WHICH THE NEWS HAD BEEN REPORTED IN THE MEDIA. THE DEATH OF SINGER DÉDÉ FORTIN DID NOT HAVE THE SAME EFFECT. THE MEDIA COVERED THIS LOSS DIFFERENTLY, WITH FOCUS ON THE SINGER’S LIFE AND SUFFERING.

  • It is normal to try to understand what happened, but looking for or finding someone to blame or someone responsible for a suicide must be avoided.
  • Be wary of generalizations based on small numbers. Avoid expressions such as “suicide epidemic” or “the place with the highest suicide rate.” Always interpret statistics with caution and use reliable sources.
  • The front page of a newspaper is never the right place to cover a suicide.
Finding the words
  • Talk about suicide in terms of being a “suicide” or a “suicide attempt” rather than being “completed/uncompleted” or “successful” or “failed” (this applies to attempts also), as suicide must not be associated with a positive or negative connotation. It is not a task or project to be achieved. Never use the word “committed,” since in English this refers to a criminal act. Suicide is not a criminal act in Canada.
  • The preferable expression is “died by suicide.”
  • Avoid referring to “choice” or “solution” when talking about suicide.
writers

While suicide rates have decreased since the 2000s, three people die by suicide every day in Quebec. It is estimated that each loss impacts about 20 people, including painful grief for some. With so many people affected by suicide, it is not a coincidence that this reality inspires some authors, directors and musicians to focus on the subject.

While stories featuring characters dealing with mental health issues or suicidal thoughts may be perceived as touching and genuine, they can also be upsetting and distressing for some people. There is a risk that some people who identify with the character or suicide content may also take their life (known as copy or contagion suicides).

In Western societies, suicide is increasingly depicted in fiction and often sensationalized. The scenes are longer and more detailed than before. Because suicide can affect people in different ways, it is recommended to consider at the beginning of the creative process whether talking about it is necessary. If it is, how should it be addressed in a respectful and preventive way? The idea is not to create a taboo, but to choose the right way of addressing and talking about suicide. A better understanding of suicide and the related myths and risk factors can also make a work of fiction more safe and realistic.

Considerations

  • A dramatic suicide scene can cause distress for people who are more vulnerable, such as someone who is having suicidal thoughts or someone who has lost a loved one to suicide.
  • It has been shown that a detailed description of the suicide method used by the deceased may influence subsequent suicides.
  • Simplistic explanations must be avoided. Suicide is multifactorial. The message the public gets must not be that suicide is the solution to a problem.
  • Suicide should not be glorified or sensationalized. Since suicide is neither glamorous nor romantic, the audience should not be given this impression. Suicide is permanent; the problems are temporary.
  • It is important to raise awareness of how suicide impacts families and communities. Suicide is always a tragic loss with lasting implications for anyone close to the person, be it family, friends, neighbours or colleagues. It also affects the broader community and society.
  • Whenever possible, suggest available resources that can help (prevention, treatment and recovery or postvention).

Do not hesitate to consult a suicide prevention professional to guide you in your creative process. The AQPS does occasionally provide guidance, and this is not something that takes away from the creative artist’s original idea.

For you or someone you care about
Quebec suicide prevention hotline 1 866 APPELLE (277-3553)