Should the news media report on suicides?

Should the news media report on suicides?

EUGENE, Ore. - A man died in a fall from an overpass onto Interstate 5 last weekend.

Police said their investigation indicated the man died as a result of suicide.

Should news media report that fact? 

Help is available

If you believe that a friend or family member is suicidal, call the Oregon Partnership’s Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK or (800) SUICIDE. They handle over 18,000 calls per year.

Suicide Warning Signs

  • Talking about suicide
  • Previous suicide attempt
  • Seeking out lethal means
  • Preoccupation with death
  • No hope for the future
  • Self-loathing, self-hatred
  • Getting affairs in order
  • Saying goodbye
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Sudden sense of calm

 

"The thing about suicide is that it's treatable," said Esther Bain, who works in suicide prevention, "and it's not treatable if we don't talk about it."

Bain calls herself a "survivor of suicide."

Her brother killed himself in 2008. Last fall, her friend also took his own life.

"There's a lot of shame and stigma around suicide,  even for the survivors of a suicide," she said.

The topic in general is important in Oregon, a state with a suicide rate well above the national average.

When it comes to specific deaths, the policies for reporting on suicides vary from newsroom to newsroom. One common approach: the deaths are considered private family tragedies unless the suicide impacts the general public.

"I think it's important that we do cover such stories, that we don't just push it under the rug," said Scott Maier, professor of journalism at the University of Oregon. "But at the same time, we want to be careful not to sensationalize or cause others to be thinking about suicide."

Some experts suggest reporting on suicides can actually lead other people who are at risk to take their own lives.

"There are copy cat phenomenon with suicide, especially with teens," said Dr. Victor Richenstein, a doctor of general psychiatry.

Other people believe that hearing about a preventable death, like suicide, can prevent other deaths like it.

"I think that for the average person that struggles with suicidal ideation, hearing a story could actually encourage them to go get help," said Bain, the suicide prevention worker.

Maier said journalists walk a fine line in reporting suicides.

"When a death occurs and it is for one reason or another newsworthy, but we can do so tastefully and focus on the individual and that person's life rather than the death," he said.

"I feel like it absolutely needs to be reported," said Bain. "It needs to be talked about."

But how?

"We don't know how to have a conversation about suicide," Richenstein said. "Yet."


Resources

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK

Eugene

Looking Glass 24 Hour Hotline
2485 Roosevelt Blvd
Eugene, OR 97402
(541) 689-3111

White Bird Clinic
541-687-4000
1-800-422-7558

Jennifer Baker Foundation
Darlene Baker
541-953-3734
darlene@jenniferbakerfund.org

Corvallis

Support After Suicide
LBCC Benton Center Conference Room
757 NW Polk Ave, Corvallis, OR 97330
Meeting Day(s)/Meeting Time:
1st and 3rd Thursday 4:00 - 5:30pm
Counties Served: Linn, Benton, Polk, Marion
Esther Bain – Support After Suicide 541-760-2927
Lynn Bain – Support after Suicide 541-760-1875

Corvallis Community Outreach
(541) 758-3000

Benton County Mental Health
(541) 766-6844
1-888-232-7192

Roseburg
Douglas County Health and Human Services
541 440-3532

Coos County Mental Health
756-8601

Albany
Linn County Health Services
800-560-5535