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NUJ backs calls for editors to stop using phrase ‘committed suicide’ in stories

Michelle Stanistreet 1The National Union of Journalists has backed calls for editors to stop using the phrase “committed suicide” in stories.

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet, left, has put her name to an open letter urging editors to considering ending use of the phrase in their publications.

The letter, written by Daily Telegraph columnist Bryony Gordon and Luciana Berger MP, has been signed by more than 130 signatories and published to mark World Suicide Prevention Day today.

It claimed journalists “often still revert to outdated language and stereotypes when reporting suicide”, and urged editors not to describe a suicide as “easy”, “painless”, “quick” or “effective”.

The letter added: “We urge you to consider the increased risk to those affected by suicide, including bereaved families and friends. Please avoid sensationalist headlines, prominent or repeated photos of the deceased – particularly in cases of a young person’s death or a suicide cluster, or stereotypical quotes from acquaintances or neighbours about the state of mind of the deceased leading up to their death.

​”We still read that a person has ‘committed suicide’, suggesting suicide is either a sin or a crime, or both. It has not been a crime in the UK since 1961. This form of words can imply that to take one’s own life is a selfish, cowardly, criminal or irreligious act, rather than the manifestation of extreme mental distress and unbearable pain.

“It also adds to the stigma and feelings of shame that prevent people from reaching out for help. We call on all sections of the media to replace the phrase ‘commit suicide’ with alternatives, such as ‘died by suicide’, and to embed this change into their style guides. We too promise to use this language when talking about the subject.

“We would strongly encourage you to include the contact details for suicide prevention organisations in any reports or articles where suicide is a significant element of the story. Thank you to those of you who already do this.”

Last week HTFP reported how the Independent Press Standards Organisation had questioned whether journalists should reveal where people have taken their own lives if the location could be seen as key to the method of suicide.

Mental health charity Samaritans also warned earlier this year that journalists were “romanticising” youth suicide by using social media tributes in stories.

8 comments

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  • September 10, 2018 at 7:51 pm
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    I agree with the need to be sensitive. However, banning the use of the word suicide along with various other details included in the public inquest hearing is beginning to sound like self censorship!

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  • September 11, 2018 at 9:18 am
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    I agree with Observer50. Yes, it has NOT been a crime for some time. But it is still a definition of what, sadly, has happened. Trying to avoid the term is, to my mind, like trying to avoid descriptions of some other medical problems. What the NUJ and others should be doing is to persuade papers etc to speak/write more openly about suicide and why it happens. Years ago people did not like talking about cancer or alzheimer’s and would go out of their way to those afflicted but they do speak more openly now and while it is still upsetting for those involved and their families the “open” talk about it means that more money/effort has been put into trying to discover not just the causes but a cure.

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  • September 11, 2018 at 9:25 am
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    But neither Michelle Stanistreet, nor anyone else, has suggested avoiding or banning the word suicide.
    As is very clear to anyone who reads beyond the headline.
    She suggests ‘died by suicide’, because as it hasn’t been a crime for almost 60 years, she considers ‘committed suicide’ to be perjorative.

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  • September 11, 2018 at 10:43 am
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    ‘Commited Suicide’ is used in every day language, nothing more annoying reading a newspaper splash, celebrating the life of someone skirting around how the person died. Only to read the Facebook comments that they jumped off a building.

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  • September 11, 2018 at 1:01 pm
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    The NUJ is becoming an absolute joke. What a disgrace. No wonder none of our new recruits are ever interested in joining.

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  • September 11, 2018 at 4:35 pm
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    Good to see the NUJ focusing on the real issues affecting journalists like job cuts, paper closures and pay freezes.

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