September 9, 2014

Research by Headline has shown that negative media reporting of self harm and suicide continue to pose a risk to vulnerable people by breaching media guidelines for reporting of suicide. The research carried out ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day showed that articles on the theme of suicide were most frequently reported on in a negative way in 2014 to date.


Negative media reporting of suicide and self harm accounted for 82% of breaches of the media guidelines for reporting on suicide and mental health for the year to date. 39% of these referenced explicit details of the suicide method used.  Dominant secondary themes of these negative reports were the inclusion of suicide notes and speculation as to reasons behind suicide or self harm.


While as in previous years, tabloid media continued to be the dominant source of negative reporting on suicide and self harm, they showed a strong commitment to sharing stories of personal experience in 2014.  Tabloid media are now the dominant source of stories relating to personal experience of suicide and self harm. 


Local and regional media continue to be a strong source of positive reporting, accounting for nearly half of all positive coverage relating to suicide and self harm.


According to the World Health Organization, research over the last 30 years has shown that the mass media are one of the most significant influences on belief systems. Consequently, people often form their attitudes about mental health difficulties and suicidal behaviour though the television programmes, radio programmes, news reports and films they see, read and hear.


The media therefore, have a significant role to play in promoting mental health and actively reducing stigma towards people with mental health difficulties.  International research consistently shows a strong modelling effect of media coverage on suicide.


Speaking on the findings, Jane Arigho, Project Co-ordinator at Headline said, “The media have a key role to play in how the public think about suicide and mental health problems. While excellent work is being done by many media organisations to reduce stigma and support suicide prevention, these findings indicate that more work is required in the reporting of suicide and self harm to prevent putting those who are most vulnerable at further risk”.

Therefore Headline is strongly urging media organisations to be mindful of the copy cat effect such reporting may have by adhering to the media guidelines including the following:

  • Including contact details for sources of help and support in articles related to suicide. The Samaritans Freephone Helpline: 116123 is a 24 hour service. 
  • Avoiding explicit details of method for suicide which may give vulnerable people the knowledge they need to imitate the behaviour and complete suicide.
  • Avoiding the use of dramatic photographs as these have a negative impact on those in distress.
  • Never disclosing content from a suicide note.