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Newspaper safety campaigns ‘could increase risk’ of suicides, say Samaritans

Samaritans-800x800-2Local newspaper campaigns aimed at improving safety at known suicide spots could increase the risk of people taking their own lives, say the Samaritans.

The mental health charity has urged journalists to exercise caution if campaigning for safety measures to be installed at known suicide locations – saying such coverage can “increase the risk” of encouraging imitational suicidal behaviour.

Samaritans have also warned that newspapers run similar risks if carrying inquest reports on suicides that include details of the location.

The warnings have been made by Lorna Fraser, the executive lead of the charity’s media advisory service, who has offered a series of tips for journalists on covering suicides which take place at outdoor locations.

In her guidance, contained within a guest blog for the Independent Press Standards Organisation, Ms Fraser advised reporters not to use phrases such as “leapt” in their coverage if the victim fell to their death, and to omit details about train speeds and platform numbers if they are covering an incident which has taken place on a railway.

HTFP reported in September how IPSO was seeking views from journalists on whether publishing suicide locations in reports could be seen as key to the method of suicide.

Ms Fraser wrote: “Perhaps one of the less obvious risky areas when it comes to outdoor locations is campaigning activity – for example calling for safety measures to be installed at a site.

“These campaigns often highlight location and method and can contribute to places becoming known suicide locations.

“While the media can be a great vehicle for bringing these issues into the public domain and supporting efforts to apply pressure for action to be taken, there are evidenced risks with highlighting suicide methods and locations, even if they are part of a safety campaign.

“As with all reporting relating to suicide, vulnerable people can be exposed to this coverage, which can increase the risk of encouraging imitational suicidal behaviour.

“Another area of concern are stories covering awards for bravery when a suicide has been prevented. Again, these stories can serve as a powerful reminder that suicide is preventable and highlight the importance of talking if you’re struggling with your mental health or if you’re worried about someone else.

“However, it is far safer to cover such stories without including the suicide method.”

Ms Fraser also encourages reporters not to publish locations in cases where a story is to be reported as a suicide, such as following the outcome of an inquest.

In her blog she also highlighted examples of suicide coverage which can be helpful.

They include individual stories of recovery, highlighting the work of local support services and reminding readers of the importance of talking if they are struggling.

11 comments

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  • November 6, 2018 at 3:05 pm
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    Much as I respect the work that the Samaritans do, I feel it could be difficult to avoid reporting on a method of suicide if, for example, a person chose to end their lives by jumping from a high place such as a bridge. Most, if not all, journalists I have come across in my 40-year career try and treat these tragic cases with sympathy and tact. It is not an easy subject to cover for anyone with a conscience, but my guess is that if anyone is determined to take their own life, they will do so without any prompting from the media.

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  • November 7, 2018 at 12:02 am
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    I agree with echoandthebunnyman. Also, to obscure where,what how etc the suicide happened is to ignore the fact that people will know where it happened etc. You don’t solve a “problem” by covering up the facts. The way to solve a problem is to get to the root cause of it. Sorry to sound blunt but this is another instance of an organisation – a much respected Samaritans in this case – trying to put the blame on the messenger. That may sound blunt and I don’t want to sound harsh (although people will accuse me of being so) but let’s spend more time on why it happens.

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  • November 7, 2018 at 12:04 am
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    Having looked at what I said I thin, on reflection, that a lot of good cld be done if the Samaritans were able to be more open in terms of interviews with the media about what should/should not happen in terms of trying to prevent suicides. I know – and respect – the fact they went to be anonymous when it comes to dealing with individuals but as an organisation I think they could open up a bit more – and I mean that nicely. Don’t shoot the messenger – shoot forward the message to the world about what needs to be done.

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  • November 7, 2018 at 8:25 am
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    Many years ago, a long standing problem with suicides at Valley Bridge in Scarborough was solved with a campaign when a public spirited local firm made a safety grille barrier. Google it.

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  • November 7, 2018 at 9:33 am
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    papers cannot win on this one, despite their good intentions.

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  • November 7, 2018 at 11:15 am
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    It seems like HTFP runs a story on an almost bi-weekly basis at the moment, in which a suicide charity is telling us yet another piece of important factual information we’re no longer allowed to publish.

    We’re not allowed to say how somebody killed themselves in case it upsets someone. We’re not allowed to publish tributes to people who’ve committed suicide, in case it glamourises the act – but we’re also not allowed to say ‘committed suicide’ because in case it implies the person has done something wrong. Now we’re not allowed to campaign for anti-suicide measures, in case it inspires more people to commit suicide.

    Jesus wept. It’s positively Orwellian.

    If it’s factual, it’s going in. The end.

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  • November 7, 2018 at 12:06 pm
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    ex-JP sub Your notion that the long-standing problem was solved is a bit naive. I don’t imagine there are less suicides over all, just less at that location. So ‘solved’ for that location maybe, but people will find other means to the same end. The solution is a much bigger issue.

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  • November 8, 2018 at 10:17 am
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    Lydia: It’s ‘fewer suicides’ not ‘less suicides’ – & ‘overall’ is one word, not two.

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  • November 8, 2018 at 12:32 pm
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    And don’t use ampersands in a sentence. They look bleddy awful.

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  • November 8, 2018 at 2:21 pm
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    Echo: it’s text style; get used 2 it. BTW apols 4 the figure 2! Nowt wrong with ampersands anyway. They’ve been around 4 longer than both of us. There’s a difference between style preferences & (oops) grammatical & spelling inaccuracies.

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  • November 8, 2018 at 4:13 pm
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    Bob – I’ve got used to it, but I don’t have to like it…

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