[There is] a tension, and a difference of emphasis, between guidance for the press based on strategies to prevent copycat suicides (especially avoidance of certain details) and the perspectives of bereaved people (who feel they have a right to expect sympathetic and accurate reporting). There is a tension between a guideline that suggests that certain information should be withheld/not disclosed and a perspective that favours (in reports of an individual case) an accurate account, which may include such information (such as an image of the person who died).At issue is the fact that ...
... systematic reviews of the literature have concluded that suicide rates may rise after media reports of suicide, especially if the dead person was a celebrity, if the report glamorises the suicide, if reporting is prominent, or if the method of suicide is discussed in detail.Of course, those findings have influenced the media guidelines issued by suicide prevention proponents (see the U.S. guidelines), and the importance of preventing copycat suicide is paramount; but the bereaved's concerns about news reports of suicide also ought to be taken into account. The study of survivors showed that some want to share their story through news reports but others do not, so it would be helpful to have information and assistance readily available to the newly bereaved -- including how to take care of their own needs and what impact news coverage has on suicidal behavior -- so they can make make informed decisions about talking with the media.
The bereaved's emphatic concern about the accuracy of reporting -- especially related to how and why the person died and who the person was -- merits consideration in media guidelines, whose focus on "managing" media reports to enhance safety may not be understood by survivors, and may even cause survivors unnecessary distress at a time when they are experiencing acute grief.In addition, media guidelines ought to include recommendations for reporters about treating the bereaved with respect, sensitivity, and compassion instead of being "overly focused on getting the 'story.'"
Mavis [an interviewee in the study] said some of the journalists she met had no respect for the dead. She continued to talk about her dead daughter as a person with social identity with whom she had a "continuing bond" and strongly wanted to protect her dignity in death. She was understandably upset when a journalist suggested that a news report could do no harm:
Mavis: So that part of her [my daughter], whether it's her photograph or her name or whatever, they're not put out for people to pick over ... And that's her [my daughter's] right and privilege. [But] one reporter said to me "Well, what harm can she come to, she's dead now?" and I said "If that's what you believe, I have nothing else to say." I mean, that sort of takes your breath away.
Currently, there are two resources available to help survivors of suicide loss tell their stories safely and with an eye toward taking care of themselves in the process, but those resources are not designed for the newly bereaved. So while there is a need to develop assistance for survivors in the hours and days immediately following a suicide, these two items do address the needs of the bereaved who have more "distance" from their loss and are engaged in public speaking:
• SurvivorVoices: Sharing the Story of Suicide Loss
• Special Considerations for Telling Your Own Story: Best Practices for Presentations by Suicide Loss and Suicide Attempt Survivors