Reporting on Suicide

One reason why suicide rates among youths continue to rise is because teens are vulnerable to the phenomenon
of “contagion” or imitative behavior. It’s critical for public officials and media representatives to be careful about how they report suicides—especially celebrity suicides—to minimize the likelihood of suicide
contagion.

Reporting should be concise and factual. It should avoid presenting simplistic explanations for suicide; after
all, lives are complicated and rarely is there a single reason why people kill themselves. Also to be avoided
are “how-to” descriptions about the method of suicide and statements that present suicide as painless. Certain
methods may cause little pain to the person who’s ending his or her life; however, the kind of pain the person
leaves behind is often as deep or worse than the one that he or she fl ed from. Family members and friends of
suicide victims never regain normalcy in their lives and often attempt or die by suicide themselves.

Suicide shouldn’t be presented as an accomplishment, thus saying that someone “successfully killed himself” is inappropriate. So, too, is saying that someone “committed suicide” because this sounds as if the person did
something illegal and there’s no law against suicide. It’s best to say that a person “died by suicide” or killed himself.”

Public eulogies and memorials for the deceased can contribute to suicide contagion, especially if the person
died young and always will be remembered that way. Reports of community expressions of grief should: 1) be minimized; 2) avoid glorifying suicide or the person who died; and 3) avoid focusing solely on positive characteristics of the person’s life. People kill themselves because they have problems and fears they can’t
handle. Others need to know this so that people with similar problems receive help before it’s too late.