The media and suicide coverage

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Dear Editor,

The Caribbean Voice notes a letter recently in the print media calling for legislation to prevent media reportage on suicide from fostering the Werther Effect or copycatting. The fact is that the media has an important role to play in influencing social attitudes towards and perceptions of suicide and mental illness and must ensure appropriate reporting of suicide and mental illness in order to minimise harm and copycat behaviour; and, reduce the stigma and discrimination experienced by people with mental illness.

To ensure that media avoid counter-productive coverage, Guyana’s Ministry of Health should, at a minimum, consistently and continually release guidelines for media that recommend press reduce suicide reporting overall; exclude information on suicide methods; avoid implying that suicide is “caused” by any single factor or event (such as bullying), and keep the word “suicide” out of headlines. These guidelines should suggest things to avoid and convey when writing about suicide.

AVOID:

• Details of the method

• The word “suicide” in the headline

• Photo(s) of the deceased

• Admiration of the deceased

• The idea that suicide is unexplainable

• Repetitive or excessive coverage

• Front page coverage

• Exciting reporting

• Romanticized reasons for the suicide

• Simplistic reasons for the suicide

• Approval of the suicide

CONVEY:

• Alternatives to suicide (i.e. treatment)

• Community resource information for those with suicidal ideation

• Examples of a positive outcome of a suicidal crisis (i.e. calling a suicide hotline)

• Warning signs of suicidal behaviour

• How to approach a suicidal person including use of emphatic communication.

• Strategies to build self esteem and provide coping skills.

Also we suggest the successful Mindframe National Media Initiative in Australia as a model that that can be adapted for Guyana. Perhaps the University of Guyana can be approached to house such an initiative and to reach out to stakeholders nationwide to ensure its successful implementation.

The Mindframe Initiative is a comprehensive strategy that aims to influence media representation of issues related to mental illness and suicide and encourage responsible, accurate and sensitive portrayals. The strategy includes a number of projects which focus on providing resources and education opportunities for media professionals, the mental health and suicide prevention sector, police, courts and people involved in Australian film, television and theatre. It also involves strategies to facilitate the inclusion of these issues in tertiary journalism and public relations education, supporting a community action site and helping to build the evidence base for this work.

Sincerely,

The Caribbean Voice