Guidance for the media
Your words and images matter. Responsible portrayals and reporting on suicide make a difference and reduce harm.
Following media guidelines for safe reporting on suicide can decrease the number of deaths by suicide by 40 per year.
(source: Canadian Psychiatric Association)
What are suicide exposure effects?
Suicide exposure effects happen when exposure to the details of a death by suicide leads to suicidal thoughts and behaviour in others. For example, when well-known celebrities have died by suicide, there has been a noticeable spike in suicide deaths in the months after. It can also happen in community settings such as schools or workplaces.
You may have heard the term “suicide contagion” — we prefer “suicide exposure effects” as using the word “contagion” about suicide can contribute to stigma.
Exposure effects don’t happen when someone talks openly about suicide. It’s important to open up conversations about suicide so people can feel comfortable seeking help. Suicide exposure effects can happen when excessive details about a death are shared widely. While the media is not the only place someone can be exposed to harmful details about suicide, as a media professional, you can make a difference by following the recommendations and guidance below.
Reporting on suicide: what helps
Using safe language
Do not use words such as “commit,” “failed,” “successful,” or “completed”. These all associate suicide with breaking the law, or with being a competition or achievement. Instead, use terms like “died by suicide”, and people-first language such as “someone who has died by suicide.” Avoid talking about suicide “epidemics” and saying suicides happen “without warning.” Reminding people that suicide is preventable and that hope is possible can save lives. For more details about safe language, see our Suicide Safe language page.
Including stories and messages of support
Consider balancing news about a death by suicide with messages of support, including:
- Help is available — there are people who will be there for you without judgement (you can add helpline details here)
- You matter and are deserving of help
- You are not alone
Consider also including stories from people who were able to get help and either live with or resolve their struggle with suicide. Sharing stories from people with lived experience of suicidal feelings can help readers or viewers who are struggling. This is known as the Papageno effect.
There is no single cause of suicide —it usually happens because of a complex range of factors. Some populations experience higher rates of suicide, but it’s important to understand the nuances of these situations and not to assume that people are “at risk” because they belong to a particular group or community. Call attention to social issues that might have contributed to suicide without making it seem like they are inescapable. Where possible, consult with people from the community affected about how to share the news in a way that is least harmful to their community members, and avoid portraying members of a community or group as “victims”.
Telling people where they can seek help
Most importantly, always let people know where they can seek help at the end of your story. We are always happy for media to include our name, phone number and text number at the end of a piece.
Reporting on suicide: What to avoid
Don't sensationalize suicide
Don’t describe a suicide in a way that glorifies it or makes it seem attractive to others. Keep your tone factual and neutral.
Don’t describe the method
Don’t share any details about how someone ended their life, or tried to end their life. Especially do not talk about a method if it is unusual. Details of a death by suicide can prompt someone who is vulnerable and struggling to identify with the person who died and copy the actions described. If the person who died left a note, do not go into detail about it and do not refer to it as a “suicide note”.
Don’t talk about the location
Telling people where someone took their life could encourage others to go there and do the same. To help prevent future deaths by suicide at a specific place, it is safest to not include location details.
Don’t link to content that might be harmful
Don’t link to older stories about suicide at the bottom of an article or in a sidebar. Also do not link to social media threads unless they are providing support, and especially do not link to hashtags, trending posts, or viral images or videos that refer to suicide, as this could lead to the suicide exposure effects described above. Keeping harmful content out of your pieces can help keep your readers/viewers safe.
More tools and resources for media professionals
Media guidelines for reporting on suicide
Guidelines from the Canadian Psychiatric Association
Reporting on suicide
Comprehensive guidance from the US, endorsed by the American Association for Suicidology, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and the Trevor Project.
Samaritans media Guidelines
In-depth guidelines on covering a range of suicide-related topics from UK-based helpline Samaritans