Guidelines For Journalists Reporting Suicide
Young Suicide – the facts
Suicide is the main cause of death in young people – male and female – under the age of 35 in the UK.
- In 2017, 1591 young people under the age of 35 took their own lives.
- Over three quarters of them were boys or young men.
- On average, over four young people take their lives each day.
- Over 200 schoolchildren are lost to suicide every year.
- Research shows that with appropriate early intervention and support suicide by young people can be prevented.
Suicide is not a criminal act
When reporting suicide we urge you not to use the term ‘committed suicide’.
Changes made in the Suicide Act of 1961 decriminalised the act of suicide in the UK. The word ‘commit’ treats it as if it were still a crime, which perpetuates the stigma around suicide and is offensive to families and friends.
When reporting suicide please consider, not only the grief of family and friends of the deceased, but other vulnerable young people who may be feeling worthless and not coping with life at that time and for whom explicit descriptions of suicide method could offer a life escape route. It is well known that insensitive media reporting of suicide can prompt copycat cases. Evidence about the potential for copycat suicides is strong.
Codes of Practice
The Ofcom Broadcasting Code – extracts
1.1 Material that might seriously impair the physical, mental or moral development of people under eighteen must not be broadcast.
1.2 In the provision of services, broadcasters must take all reasonable steps to protect people under eighteen. For television services, this is in addition to their obligations resulting from the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (in particular, Article 27, see Appendix 2).
1.3 Children must also be protected by appropriate scheduling from material that is unsuitable for them. Although scheduling requirements in this section are not relevant to the provision of programmes on demand, the BBC must put in place appropriate measures on BBC ODPS that provide equivalent protection for children.
1.13 Dangerous behaviour, or the portrayal of dangerous behaviour, that is likely to be easily imitable by children in a manner that is harmful:
- must not be featured in programmes made primarily for children unless there is strong editorial justification;
- must not be broadcast before the watershed (in the case of television), when children are particularly likely to be listening (in the case of radio), or when content is likely to be accessed by children (in the case of BBC ODPS), unless there is editorial justification.
Section 2: Harm and Offence
Violence, dangerous behaviour and suicide:
2.4 – Programmes must not include material (whether in individual programmes or in programmes taken together) which, taking into account the context, condones or glamorises violent, dangerous or seriously antisocial behaviour and is likely to encourage others to copy such behaviour.
2.5 Methods of suicide and self-harm must not be included in programmes except where they are editorially justified and are also justified by the context.
Visit OFCOM for the full Code
Editors’ Code of Practice – extracts
Clause 4: Intrusion into grief or shock
In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. These provisions should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.
Clause 5: Reporting suicide
When reporting suicide, to prevent simulative acts care should be taken to avoid excessive detail of the method used, while taking into account the media’s right to report legal proceedings.
Visit The Independent Press Standards Organisation for the full Code.
When reporting suicide and self harm please avoid –
- High profile (e.g. front page) positioning of suicide news.
- Bold and dramatic headlines such as ‘suicide contagion’, ‘suicide drama’, ‘suicide hot spot’.
- Detail of suicide method used, especially explicit descriptions e.g. names of pills or chemicals taken, types of ligature used.
- Naming and showing locations and means such as railway lines, bridges, tall buildings or cliffs.
- Naming social media, internet sites and chat rooms that promote suicide.
- Speculating about the reason or ‘trigger’ for the suicide; there is never only one reason why a young person ends their life. Contributing factors are complex and can include individual risk, current life events and surrounding social situations.
- Making the deceased appear heroic or brave or that the suicide was a solution to a problem.
- Romanticising suicides, linking suicide to a particular ‘cult’.
- Using large photographs of the deceased, especially of pretty young women, which can also romanticise suicide and encourage viral social media distribution.
- Endorsing myths around suicide.
- Excessive, dramatic, sensational headlines and reporting.
And please do –
- Include references to our helpline services and other support groups.
PAPYRUS HOPELINEUK is a confidential support and advice service for:
- Children and Young People under the age of 35 who are experiencing thoughts of suicide
- Anyone concerned that a young person could be thinking about suicide
HOPELINEUK advisors want to work with you to understand why these thoughts of suicide might be present. They also want to provide you with a safe space to talk through anything happening in your life that could be impacting on your or anyone else’s ability to stay safe.
Call: 0800 068 41 41
2pm-10pm bank holidays
- Be sensitive to the grief and feelings of bereaved family and friends who are often vulnerable to taking their own lives.
What can PAPYRUS offer you as a media resource?
Interviews/comment on …
- Young suicide statistics.
- Current concerns of young people contacting our helpline services.
- Indicators that a young person could be feeling suicidal – for parents, friends, teachers and tutors, work colleagues. What to watch out for.
- Reasons why young people kill themselves – the often complex mix.
- Vulnerable times – leaving home, starting university, starting a job, exams, bullying, relationship breakdown.
- Fundraising ‘heroes’ – unusual escapades, often with a background of moving personal experience of suicide.
- Case studies – parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents, young friends, teachers and tutors, work colleagues.
- Case studies – suicide survivors.
- Case studies – PAPYRUS suicide prevention training with colleges, local authority and business groups.
Our team can comment on – for example:
- The need for everyone to be aware that children and young people can suffer from mental distress and have suicidal thoughts.
- The need for communication from an early age; talking through problems and feelings is important.
- The need for any mention of feeling suicidal being taken seriously and advice sought quickly. Early intervention is essential – family and friends should persist in seeking help for the young person.
- The need for crisis intervention for suicidal young people.
- Better access to/more funding for psychiatric services for child and adolescent psychiatry and 16-24 year olds.
- The role of education in preparing young people for understanding and coping with emotional distress/mental illness.
- The need for young suicidal people found in an emergency, especially at night, to be kept in a safe place – not a prison cell when they have committed no crime.
- The need for coroners’ recording to be reviewed in order that the real extent of young suicide in the UK is uncovered.
- When boundaries of patient confidentiality can put a young person’s mental safety at risk.
We also offer:
- Guidance to journalists seeking opinion on the boundaries.
- Review/comment on documentary, film and TV narrative scripts and ‘treatments’ relative to the portrayal of suicide.
- Support at viewings of very sensitive material where suicide content could upset audiences.
Above all, we are always willing to talk through your ideas and discuss how we might support your editorials or programmes.
PAPYRUS press office
direct line: 020 8943 5343 mobile 07799 863 321