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It claimed journalists “often still revert to outdated language and stereotypes when reporting suicide”, and urged editors not to describe a suicide as “easy”, “painless”, “quick” or “effective”.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