New study suggests journalists to carefully report suicide

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A new study which examined how media chose to report cases of suicide, and the association between the details of the report and deaths by suicide, was published recently in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) suggests that journalists should be careful when reporting such sensitive issues.

This recent study also supports similar previous studies that have shown that if one is exposed to media coverage on suicide, it may cause them to exhibit similar behaviour- this is called suicide contagion. Dr. Mark Sinyor, a psychiatrist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and the University of Toronto said, “ When media reports include resources such as crisis services and messages of hope, it can have a positive impact on the public, and potentially help a person in crisis by reminding them that suicide isn’t the only option and that help is available.”

The international research team made up of researchers from Canada, Austria and Australia analysed how reports about how reports on suicide can potentially cause harm, and also studied the helpful elements that are provided by print and online media. They went through nearly 17,00 articles published in major media organizations including The New York Times from 2011 and 2014.

The team observed that there is a link between how the media reports suicide in and the number of suicide deaths. The study suggests that journalists should be sensitive when reporting about suicide because the media can be extremely impactful and can influence those who are vulnerable; and therefore should be very specific about the contents of their work before it is published.

“Suicide is a complex phenomenon that is influenced by many factors. We encourage journalists to take extra care to contextualize their reporting, especially when a story is about someone or a situation that people are likely to identify with,” added Dr. Sinyor.

Dr. Ian Coleman, professor at the School of Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Ottawa, seemed to agree with the findings of the study and said in a related commentary, “Journalists have a key role to play in public discourse on current issues facing society. It is very encouraging that discussions about mental health and suicide have become prominent in recent years, and that the stigma attached to mental health is dropping. The media has likely played an important role in this.”

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