Reporting of high-profile suicides

9 Jun, 2018

MEDIA ADVISORY

The Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand (MHF) is reminding media of the importance of using care and caution when covering the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain.

“We’ve known about the dangers of suicide reporting for decades,” MHF chief executive Shaun Robinson says. “It’s up to all of us to listen to the evidence and protect vulnerable people from irresponsible reporting that can lead to people taking their lives.”

While the deaths of high-profile people are newsworthy, certain types of suicide reporting can put people who are already at risk of suicide in greater danger of taking their lives.

Both Ms Spade and Mr Bourdain had devoted fan bases in New Zealand who related to them on a very personal level. People going through a difficult time may hear of the death of someone they admired and wonder “if it never got better for them, why would it get better for me?”.

The MHF is concerned that reporting about Ms Spade and Mr Bourdain has been:

  • Extremely prominent, including using the word ‘suicide’ in headlines.
  • Repetitive (most media outlets have published multiple stories about each death).
  • Speculative regarding what may have caused each person to take their life.
  • Too detailed in terms of method, suicide notes and events after the deaths.
  • Occasionally flippant or sensationalised.

People are concerned and distressed

In the past week, members of the public have approached the MHF to express concern and distress regarding the volume of recent suicide reporting. Individuals have expressed feeling distressed or triggered, concerned for relatives and loved ones, and frustrated that there seems to be endless talk of suicide without any change in our suicide numbers.

“This kind of feedback reminds us that the research around suicide reporting represents more than just numbers on a page – the ‘vulnerable people’ we worry about are very real, and it’s not always easy to know who they are,” Mr Robinson says. “At any one time, one in 20 New Zealanders may be thinking about suicide. These people are important and don’t deserve to be put at risk by hasty or thoughtless reporting of suicide.”

The MHF encourages media to keep the following in mind when covering high-profile suicides, including those of Ms Spade and Mr Bourdain:

  • Examine all stories picked up off the wire or taken from international outlets, such as the Daily Mail, and remove details that may be distressing to vulnerable people, such as information about method, quotes from suicide notes or uninformed speculation about what may have led to a suicide,
  • Consider adding a suicide prevention angle to all stories – will your audience go away knowing how to identify someone at risk? How to ask for help? Where to go to get help? Visit the MHF's suicide prevention information pages for more information,
  • Consider the prominence and number of stories, and reduce both if possible,
  • Do not use ‘suicide’ in headlines,
  • Carefully moderate comments, on your own website and on social media,
  • Include helplines in all coverage.

For more information on suicide reporting, read Reporting & Portrayal of Suicide.