The Media Has a Duty of Care to Present Suicide in a Responsible Way

10/09/2015 09:30 BST | Updated 09/09/2016 10:12 BST

There are around 6,000 suicides a year in the UK and around 90% of suicides are by people who have mental health problems. As a mental health charity we know that the issue of suicide is often surrounded by shame and stigma and so we want to get people talking about the subject. This conversation includes coverage in the media.

The media has a duty of care to present suicide in a responsible way. Research shows that media coverage of suicide, particularly graphic imagery illustrating the method used, can lead to copycat deaths. A study a few years ago found that the number of people attempting overdoses jumped 17% the week after an episode of Casualty featuring a similar suicide bid. There is also a real danger in glamourising and romanticising suicide.

This is particularly the case when there is a celebrity involved. Much of the reporting around Robin Williams' death was irresponsible and insensitive. Many newspapers and websites ran front-page headlines with Williams' method and means of suicide, describing in gory detail how the actor took his own life.

We ask the media to not be too explicit or detailed about methods of suicide as this could be used as a tip by someone experiencing suicidal ideations. This is even more important when the method involves an unusual method as it puts information into the public domain and makes is easily accessible.

In fact earlier this year an inquest in Essex heard that a 16-year-old schoolboy hanged himself in a 'horrible mistake' as he experimented to see how Hollywood legend Robin Williams died.

Lots of media coverage also fell into the trap of oversimplifying the reasons Mr Williams took his own life - for example saying it was because of money problems, when we know that the reasons are often varied and complex. This is common in lots of coverage of suicide and as a charity we advise journalists not to speculate on reasons behind a suicide.

As a result of the immense media attention many more people sought help through Mind's services with visits to the website and calls to our infoline increasing. Which goes to show that when done sensitively, coverage can have a positive effect on encouraging people to get help.

We would encourage any coverage to include signposting for people in distress (to the Samaritans for example) and we would also recommend the inclusion of some guidance if the reader or someone they know are affected by suicidal feelings.

Talk to someone: In turn, if you are worried about a loved one, be non-judgemental and supportive so they feel safe to open up.

Get help: Visit your GP or A&E. Equally - if you are concerned about someone, encourage them to talk through the available options.

Stay safe: Remove any means of taking your own life - this is important while you learn how to cope with suicidal feelings. And if you are worried someone else may take their life- look out for warning signs and stay with them.

The Mind Media Awards celebrates the best examples of reporting and portrayals of mental health in print, broadcast and digital media. The event, organised by the mental health charity Mind, invites journalists, bloggers, broadcasters and production teams to submit work which has helped to raise awareness of mental health problems and tackle outdated stereotypes.

This year’s shortlisted entries will be revealed next week on 16 September and winners will be announced at a celebratory event at the Troxy on Monday 16 November.

If you have been affected by any of these issues then contact the Samaritans....

Need help? In the UK, call The Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90. For more support and advice, visit the website here.