AFSP Response to Ledger Suicide Reports

357On Monday, Lakeland Local columnist Kemp Brinson opened a discussion on Responsible Reporting of Suicides. In the comments, I referenced and linked to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Through the wonders of linkback, Wylie G. Tene, the AFSP spokesperson, read and commented on the discussion. He left the following as a comment. I felt it deserved a more prominent position.

Letter mailed to The Ledger today from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:

We understand that media reports about individual deaths by suicide are sometimes newsworthy, but certain ways of reporting suicide can be harmful and contribute to what behavioral scientists call suicide contagion. More than 50 international studies show that teens and young adults are particularly at risk for contagion.

We have been made aware of a current practice by The Ledger to list suicide death briefs in the paper and online, under the headline “Suicides”. This type of reporting is very dangerous and we urge The Ledger to change this policy immediately.

To help journalists report about suicide, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, along with the Annenberg Public Policy Center, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and many other organizations such as the United Nations World Health Organization have developed recommendations for media organizations. You can read these recommendations and supporting research at www.afsp.org/media.

Our organization wants to encourage media to report about suicide, it is a public health crisis that deserves and requires responsible media attention. Journalists can report about effective suicide prevention programs, new research on suicide prevention, activities in your community aimed at reducing suicide, individual stories of people who have overcome suicidal ideations, stories on families bereaved by suicide loss who are helping others to cope with their grief, new treatments for depression or other mental illnesses that can lead to suicide, steps government agencies are taking to prevent suicide, suicide warning signs and risk factors… The list of story ideas that would be educational to your community is endless, these reports will also help save lives.

Please share this information with your colleagues and keep on file for any future reports about suicide. AFSP is also available should you want to speak with experts, need statistical data, information about the causes of suicide and/or the risk factors and warning signs of suicide.

Kemp Brinson asked AFSP for a more specific position statement about the practice of The Ledger, and received the following response from Tene:

“This is absolutely not safe and could be very dangerous. It has the potential of normalizing suicide in such a way that could make other vulnerable people seek attention in the same manner. Including the method is also not recommended. Furthermore, these types of reports do not offer any resources or inform the public about causes of suicide and how to prevent it. And as your report pointed out, they are also insensitive to the surviving family members.

Thank you for alerting the public about this and thanks to the retired detective for writing the letter-to-the-editor. “

Creative Commons License illustration credit: Lis Bokt

4 thoughts on “AFSP Response to Ledger Suicide Reports

  1. Thank you for that, Chuck. It seems to me that it’s also unfair to incorrect to label a person’s decision to leave this world intentionally under one heading as though it’s a club. It’s one thing when a 25 year old does such after a break-up with a girlfriend, quite another situation when an elderly person who’s terminally ill decides to not suffer it to the bitter end, in my mind. Better to write no story at all than one that’s unfinished.

    • It’s an Associated Press article. It looks like a lead about the model was put onto a “tail” (background information) about the Anheuser-Busch family. Most newspapers likely used just the first four paragraphs (where 95 percent of the content is about the deceased) but papers where Anheuser-Busch is a more local entity (St. Louis and Tampa) would be able to give their readers more information about the person who makes this story news.

  2. What made the story news? The article eludes to the possibility that the death may have been drug related but there is no coroner’s report. Are they reporting the news or trying to make it?

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