Samaritans urge newspapers: “Don’t splash on suicides”

Communities / Wed 5th Aug 2020 at 11:08am

NEWSPAPERS have been urged not to splash on suicide stories in new guidance issued by a mental health charity.

Samaritans has called on editors to avoid “overly prominent placement of stories” about people who have taken their own lives, saying they should try to avoid putting such pieces on front pages or at the top of online breaking news feeds.

The plea has appeared in the charity’s updated media guidelines for reporting suicide, which offers practical tips and advice for journalists covering the topic.

This has been welcomed by Harlow Council’s Mental Health Champion, cllr Shannon Jezzard.

Cllr Jezzard said: “I do definitely welcome Samaritans call to not splash stories of suicide across their papers.

For a multitude of reasons, the Covid-19 pandemic has definitely seen an increase of people struggling with their mental health, and stories talking about topics such as suicide in a sensationalised way can be increasingly triggering for those dealing with a difficult situation themselves. It is also important to be mindful of those who have lost friends and family by suicide.

“All too often we’re told we need to having conversations about sensitive topics such as mental health and suicide – and whilst it is good to bring awareness about what people are going through and experiencing – without proper mental health provision and services on offer for people, we will not see an improvement.

My solidarity is always with those struggling, especially during these trying times. I know first hand how difficult it is to deal with mental health issues, and if we are able to be more mindful in our discussions around such topics – I think that’d benefit people.

The issues around story prominence were included in a section of the guidance entitled ’10 things to remember when reporting suicide’ and include the following recommendations:

Avoid excessive amounts of coverage and overly prominent placement of stories, such as a front page splash or making it a lead story, and do not link to previous stories about suicide.

Avoid positioning a story too prominently, for example on the front page, as a lead bulletin, or at the top of an online breaking news feed. This may significantly increase the likelihood of influencing vulnerable people.

Take extra care with the selection and placement of photos and video. Consider if it is appropriate or necessary to include a large or prominently placed picture of a person who has died, or link to a video of a memorial or funeral.

This is particularly important for stories featuring young people as it risks glamourising a death. If you must use a picture it is safer to use neutral, non-emotive images.

In recent years Samaritans has issued warnings about the use of social media tributes in stories, which it says is “romanticising” youth suicides, and cautioned local newspapers that campaigns aimed at improving safety at known suicide spots could increase the risk of people taking their own lives.

The charity has also previously warned journalists not to name specific websites or online games linked to self-harm or suicidal behaviour in stories they write.

The latest guidelines have been issued following a consultation with industry leaders and journalists from the UK media last year.

Samaritans media advisory lead Lorna Fraser said: “We know that the current climate has created new challenges for media outlets, in turn adding more pressure on journalists to create of the moment reports.

“This can be difficult when handling a complex topic like suicide, which requires great sensitivity and care.

“The media has a very powerful role in preventing suicides.

“We know that reports and programmes that inform and educate the public about the issues surrounding suicidal behaviour, encourage important conversations and promote the value of speaking out and seeking help.”

The full guidelines can be found here.


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