“Irresponsible” reporting of suicide by the media contributes to “unacceptable” number of people taking their own lives, a report by a group of MPs has revealed.
Some reporting and portrayals of suicide in prominent newspapers and on television have been identified as particularly dangerous to those who may be struggling to cope, the report by the Health Select Committee said.
Such reporting can raise the potential for “copycat behaviour”, as well as crystallising the idea in those who are at the point of crisis.
There were also instances where guidelines on how suicide should be reported were “blatant[ly]” ignored, the report said.
It said: “There are already clear guidelines for the media, in particular Samaritans’ Media Guidelines for Reporting Suicide. Public Health England’s guide for local areas on how to respond rapidly to clusters of suicide also includes management of the media.
“The main issue relating to the media is the failure to universally implement the guidance. Except for the responsible reporting of suicide clause in the Editors’ Code of Practice (which Samaritans argue needs strengthening), all other guidelines are voluntary and there appear to be no consequences for blatant breaches of the guidelines, whether wilful or ignorant.
“During the course of our inquiry, we have identified several instances of inappropriate reporting and portrayal of suicide, all by leading broadcasters and mainstream newspapers.”
Samaritans spokesperson Lynsey Pollard explained that irresponsible reporting of suicide included detailing things such as the method or location of the suicide.
She told The Huffington Post UK: “It’s reporting of things like if there’s a group of suicides happening in one place or if local journalists put something a picture of a bridge when they’re talking about suicide. It just crystallise the idea that this is a good thing to do, make someone think ‘oh, that works’.
“Irresponsible reporting of suicide is reporting method, reporting location, reporting on the sort of thing that would give somebody who is struggling to cope ideas about how to end their lives.
“That’s the key thing that we’re trying to stop because there’s evidence to say that if you give people ideas when they are in that distress, then it could lead them to take their own lives.”
Although it may be common sense that certain things are likely to prove fatal, the reinforcement can be harmful to those considering taking their own life.
Pollard said: “Highlighting that and reinforcing that again and again can be really dangerous to people who are struggling to cope.”
She added: “The most important thing is that we raise awareness of the issues that can cause people to feel like they can’t cope, that they’re at the point of crisis. We’ve got to be lifting stigma and allowing people to talk. There’s especially a lot of talk about men, they’re three times more likely to take their own lives than women.
“We need to say that it’s okay to say to your family “I’m really struggling here’ and being able to explore those feelings.”
The committee also recommended that ministers should consider how to restrict access to “harmful internet content” which could encourage people to take their own lives to help bring down the “unacceptable” suicide rate, the Press Association reported.
The committee urged the government to develop a strategy with strong national leadership and clear accountability to combat avoidable loss of life from suicide.
Wider help for public mental health services and targeted support for at-risk groups through early intervention should also be prioritised, the committee said in its interim report into suicide prevention.
Those bereaved by suicide should also receive better primary and secondary care.
Tory MP and committee chairwoman Dr Sarah Wollaston, a former GP, said: “4,820 people are recorded as having died by suicide in England last year, but the true figure is likely to be higher.
“Suicide is preventable and much more can and should be done to support those at risk.
“I hope to see the most important messages from witnesses to our inquiry taken into account by the government in their renewed suicide prevention strategy.
“The committee will scrutinise the updated strategy and then hold a follow-up hearing before publishing a full report.”
A Department of Health spokesman said: “Every death by suicide is a tragedy and devastating for families, friends and communities.
“We are investing almost £1 billion in providing mental health support in A&E and home based crisis care — and are currently updating our suicide prevention strategy, which we are confident will address many of the issues raised by the committee.”
Useful websites and helplines:
Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393 Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.) Get Connected is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org