Media Coverage of Suicide

Over the last half century, studies established that media reporting which sensationalizes, romanticizes, or idealizes those who take their own lives contributes to imitative behaviors, commonly referred to as suicide contagion.

Of equal concern has been the tendency of reporters in their stories to attribute suicide to events or frustrations in the decendent's life, while failing to explore the role of the mental illness or substance abuse in the suicide. Such simplistic and misleading accounts convey to the public that suicide is a normal, understandable, or even noble response to life's difficulties.

In 2000, Dr. Herbert Hendin, SPI CEO and Medical Director, organized and directed a project, sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center that led to the development of U.S. consensus recommendations for newspapers and magazines that have been adapted for use on the SPI website.

There is increasing evidence that fictional television programs and films that deal with the subject of suicide or include suicidal characters also have considerable potential to encourage imitative behavior. Among the early important studies was one done in West Germany that documented an increase in suicides following the airing of a six-part fictional TV movie entitled "Death of a Student," in which a young man leaps in front of a train.

Interest in this subject has increased with the documentation of a significant increase in the number of movies in which suicide plays a role and which frequently involve sensational treatment of the subject or convey significant misinformation. Recommendations for the portrayal of suicide in TV and film clearly need to be developed, together with a systematic, sustained approach to their dissemination and implementation.

The Internet is growing is rapidly growing in importance as a helpful tool in educating the public about depression and suicide and in permitting individuals to self-screen for depression with suggestions for them of what to so if the screening indicates they need help.

There is also concern, however, about the increasing use of the internet to facilitate suicide and to encourage suicide pacts.