A recent editorial in the New Zealand Herald questioned the value of suicide reporting restrictions (Media restrictions do little good, New Zealand Herald, Tuesday 3 November 2015).
It is true that reactions (to death by suicide) on social media often do not follow these guidelines. Comments on social media are generally from devastated, recently bereaved friends and family members of those lost to suicide. They often use social media to express their grief, connect with others and express their own deep senses of loss and regret.
Members of professional media organisations can and must be held to a different standard.
Media do have an invaluable role to play in preventing suicide – not by agitating for freedom to sensationalise suicides (particularly when most families do not wish to have their private grief broadcast to the public) but to help raise awareness of how to prevent suicide.
We agree that “anything that might help is worth doing”. Telling stories of people who have recovered from suicidal thoughts and behaviours has been shown to reduce suicide rates. Those who are feeling suicidal often believe that they may always feel this way – together we can show them that there is hope and recovery is possible. The inquiries we receive daily from people suggest that it is this kind of information they are seeking, not sensationalised reporting, which increases risk but not understanding.
We have confidence that most members of the New Zealand media do their best to report suicide in a ‘restrained and responsible way.’ However, there are still some notable lapses. We know better, and so we must do better.
Every death by suicide is a tragedy. We must work together to create hope for those who feel that all hope has gone. We must strengthen our whanau and our communities to better care for those who are vulnerable. We must learn about the warning signs of suicide and what to do when we spot them. Most importantly, we must look out for and show respect and compassion for each other.
Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand