With the release of its updated policy paper, Media Guidelines for Reporting on Suicide, the Canadian Psychiatric Association (CPA) is presenting itself as a collaborative resource to news outlets to assist with the safe and humane reporting of suicide events.
Scientific evidence has shown that media coverage of suicide can sometimes result in contagion in some vulnerable people leading to increased suicide rates. This update to the 2009 guidelines reviews the most recent evidence relating to media reporting and suicide, and includes the recommendation for more direct engagement with the journalism community.
“This is an extremely important issue. Some reports can be harmful but we also know that sending appropriate, contextualized messages about suicide and mental health in general can save lives.”, says Dr. Mark Sinyor, lead author of the guidelines and psychiatrist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. “We’re very pleased that André Picard of The Globe and Mail and Gavin Adamson of the Ryerson School of journalism agreed to author these guidelines with us. The journalism community is attuned to the issues of safe and ethical reporting and we want to follow evidence from other countries, which have found engagement between mental health and journalism experts to be the best approach.”
The paper notes that most suicide deaths are not newsworthy and should/will not be reported. When reports do occur, either about a specific person or the issue of suicide in general, the paper recommends the use of appropriate language, that efforts be made to reduce stigma around mental disorders, and to provide information about alternatives to suicide. Links to pertinent resources for people contemplating suicide, such as crisis hotlines, should also be provided.
“The paper suggests a framework for approaching suicide-related coverage,” says Dr. Nachiketa Sinha, CPA president. “It also outlines potentially harmful and helpful aspects of reporting that should be avoided and included respectively.”
These recommendations are meant as a guide for journalists, editors, producers, educators, researchers, and mental health professionals. The CPA hopes these guidelines will be viewed as a resource and intends to work collaboratively with the media to provide them with the best available information and to help mitigate the risks of contagion.
The paper also makes preliminary recommendations for social media and suggests collaboration with online platforms to help establish organizational standards concerning dissemination of information about suicide.
“The CPA is committed to working with members of the media to help them make informed decisions about how and when to report on suicide,” says Dr. Sinyor. “We know that the overwhelming majority of people who think about suicide do not end their lives and instead find paths to resilience. As a society, we are finally trying to create accurate narratives about mental health and hopefully we can continue to work with the media to help them achieve that.”
Read CPA’s position paper, Media Guidelines for Reporting on Suicide: 2017 Update of the Canadian Psychiatric Association Policy Paper, at https://www.cpa-apc.org/wp-content/uploads/Media-Guidelines-Suicide-Reporting-EN-2018.pdf.
The Canadian Psychiatric Association is the national voice for Canada’s 5,200 psychiatrists and more than 900 psychiatric residents. Founded in 1951, the CPA is dedicated to promoting an environment that fosters excellence in the provision of clinical care, education and research.