Suicides lead to news guidelines


The deaths of prominent figures such as Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain in the past week have brought much scrutiny about suicide news reporting. Mental health experts and researchers are saying that this type of news reporting could have life-or-death consequences for readers.

In recent years, public health officials have noticed a correlation between news coverage about suicides and an increase in suicide deaths. That discovery has the World Health Organization suggesting guidelines for news about people who take their own lives.

But many voices in the news media, as well as medical professionals, are pressing for standardized rules that can be used throughout newsrooms across the country.

Dr. Dan Reidenberg, executive director of the suicide prevention center, SAVE, has published guidelines drawn from scientific research.

In his guidelines, he suggests that news outlets should be including phone numbers and links for suicide hotlines and treatment centers (something that has been done in the NBC News reports about Spade and Bourdain).

In my opinion, I don’t feel like the news media have reported on these issues in an insensitive manner, but because the news media are more influential in shaping the minds of younger audiences, it is something we must consider.

Although we do not know these people (Spade and Bourdain) personally, we feel some connection with their their products and shows. In a way, there are more people than just their immediate families who are affected by these incidents. I can see the need to tip-toe around those who are already feeling vulnerable and are considering the same path.

I think it is important for journalists to critique each other and develop discussion around this issue. There is a line of ethics that should not be crossed, but some people need to be reminded of it. At the same time, a reporter’s job is to seek the truth and report it. Creating guidelines could be an unnecessary way of censoring the media and if it starts there, who knows what other guidelines may be implemented in the future.