Mental health charities have welcomed new guidelines on the “moral maze” of suicide reporting which have been officially launched by the press watchdog.
The Independent Press Standards Organisation has officially unveiled the new guidance after seeking views on the subject from journalists and non-journalists alike.
The guidelines offer advice on reporting on inquests and approaching the families of suicide victims, and also urges journalists to think about the language and tone they use when covering on suicides.
IPSO says in the guidance that it “does not seek to limit the language that journalists can use to describe suicide” but goes on to suggest the phrase “commit suicide” should be avoided.
It states: “Journalists should be aware that the Suicide Act 1961 decriminalised the act of suicide. Many organisations working in the area of suicide prevention are concerned about the use of the phrase ‘commit suicide’ and argue that the phrasing stigmatises suicide and is insensitive to those affected by suicide.
“They prefer to refer to a person’s decision to take their own life, or that they died by suicide.”
HTFP reported in September how the National Union of Journalists had backed a call for editors to stop using the phrase “committed suicide” in stories, in support of a campaign marking World Suicide Prevention Day.
And earlier this year mental health charity Samaritans proposed new guidelines about reporting on incidents of people under 25 taking their own life, warning journalists they are “romanticising” young people’s suicides by using social media tributes in stories.
On this subject, the new IPSO guidance states: “There is naturally a public interest in the reporting of the death of a young person, or cluster of young people. The deaths of young people in particular affect a wider community and can often lead to an outpouring of grief, which journalists may want to report.
“But journalists should be aware that young people, particularly those affected by suicide, are at increased risk of suicidal behaviour. Journalists should consider carefully whether to publish comments which romanticise suicidal behaviour, or which might suggest that suicide is a way of responding to the difficulties that people might be experiencing.”
The guidance has been welcomed by Samaritans and PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide.
PAPYRUS chief executive Ged Flynn said: “In the UK suicide is the main cause of death in young people under 35 years. Every day we work with vulnerable young people struggling between life and death, those worried about them, and the families and friends distraught by the suicide of a young person.
“IPSO plays a vital role guiding members of the press through the moral maze of reporting suicide. We value its guidance and commend these strengthened guidelines.”
Lorna Fraser, executive lead for Samaritans’ media advice service, added: “We welcome IPSO’s new guidance, which will help journalists report suicide responsibly. I can’t overstate the importance of taking care when covering suicide in the media – as research has shown, it can make the difference between life and death for vulnerable people.
“Journalists are in a unique position because they can raise awareness of the issues surrounding suicide and encourage people to reach out and seek help. Samaritans media guidelines and media advisors are here to support them.”
IPSO head of standards Charlotte Urwin said: “There is a public interest in reporting suicide to raise awareness of this significant public health issue but care must be taken to limit the risk of vulnerable people being influenced by coverage and choosing to end their own lives.”
“We recognise the importance of supporting journalists and editors to report responsibly on challenging issues, and a key part of IPSO’s regulatory role is to provide guidance, training and engagement leading to tangible improvements in press standards.”
The new guidance can be found here.