‘Copycat Suicides’: Why We Need Sensitive Reporting on Suicides
“The media needs to take particular care when reporting on a suicide, especially a young celebrity suicide.”
(If you feel suicidal or know someone in distress, please reach out to them with kindness and call these helpline numbers: AASRA Foundation: 022 2754 6669; iCall: 091529 87821 and more here.)
The death of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput has thrown us all in a loop. Every time there is a celebrity death, the public at large is affected and feels for the loss.
When it’s a suicide, the media reporting the incident has a huge responsibility to do so carefully and sensitively. Both out of respect for the deceased but also to not encourage ‘copycat suicides.’
Dr Soumitra Pathare, consultant psychiatrist and Director of Centre for Mental Health, Law and Policy at ILS explains.
“Especially with celebrity suicides, for example, we know that if it is not well reported, we see a lot of copycat suicides, there is a lot of evidence. Fans of filmstars, or rockstars, there are prone to be copycat suicides.”
“The media needs to take particular care when reporting on celebrity suicides, especially on young celebrities to lessen the changes of copycat suicides.”Dr Soumitra Pathare
Just days after the news of Sushant’s death broke, four new cases of minors reportedly dying by suicide have come to light.
They were allegedly all distressed post watching the news of the actor's demise.
FIT preciously reported on what to do if the news surrounding suicide is triggering for you or someone you know.
Reporting Has a Real Impact on People’s Lives
“There’s a lot of research evidence which shows that how media reports suicide can actually influence suicide rates. So, bad reporting by the media can actually increase suicides, whereas good reporting by the media can reduce or help reduce suicides.”Dr Soumitra Pathare
The World Health Organisation says one of the 6 ways for suicide prevention is good media reporting
“That is why we get after the media,” says Dr Pathare. “Not to curb any freedom of speech or press but because the way you write has an actual, practical impact on people's lives.”
'Copycat suicides’ or the concept ‘suicide contagion’ is when a suicide or suicidal behaviours within your close peer circle, family or through media reporting can trigger suicide or suicidal behaviours. So exposure to this news has a very direct impact and therefore media reportage needs to be extremely careful and sensitive.
So instead of explicit details about the death such as the method used or the location, we can spark a conversation on mental health and suicide prevention.
Reporting Guidelines by the WHO
- Avoid saying 'committed'; instead say died of suicide
- Use people-first language
- Don't use sensationalist language
- Include helpline numbers in articles
- Don't give too many details
- Take particular care in reporting celebrity suicides
- Educate the public about suicide myths
- Exercise caution in using images
- We should not discuss methods of suicide
- Focus on life, not death
- De-link suicide and depression or mental illness
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