Address by Dr John Connolly to Suicide and the Press Meeting

By
Wednesday, 3rd December 2008
Filed under:

Farr, 1841
“Some plan for discounting by common consent the detailed dramatic tales of suicide, murder and bloodshed in the newspapers is well worth the attention of their editors. No fact is better established in science than that suicide (and murder may perhaps be added) is often committed from imitation”.

Suicide Prevention what works
• Treatment of mental disorders;
• Training of primary health care personnel;
• Help-lines and crisis centres;
• School-based programs;
• Restriction of access to means
• Improving media portrayal of suicide in the media.

SUICIDE AND THE MEDIA
All parties should understand that there is a scientifi c basis for concern that news coverage of suicide may
contribute to the causation of suicide.  Some characteristics of news coverage of suicide may contribute to contagion and other characteristics may help prevent suicide.

SUICIDE AND THE MEDIA

Copycat Suicides/Suicide clusters
Clusters represent a dramatic increase in observed over expected suicides in a community
The magnitude of the clustering effect is very small. 1%-2%. Range less than 1% to 13%
Moreover though the number of youth suicides that occur in clusters may be relatively small, they represent a class of suicides that may be particularly preventable.


SUICIDE AND THE MEDIA - POINTS FROM RESEARCH
• Subsequent suicides in a cluster in which the victims use a fl amboyant method automatically access a
degree of celebrity
• This notoriety may convey the illusion of immortality counteracting the more realistic appreciation
of the fi nality of death
• The potential suicide may have imagined that attendant news paper publicity would manipulate others

COPY CAT EFFECT
Phillips and Carstensen, 1986
                                  􀀻 6.9% teenagers
                                  􀀻 0.5% adults
 

Gould et al, 1990
                                  􀀻 6% for 15-24 y.o.
 

Stack, 1990
                                  􀀻 5.1% “elderly”
Hazell, 1993
                                  clustering could account for maximum of 5% of teenage suicide
 

London Times (A district health officer), 1931

“the repeated reading of the unrestricted reports in the press of cases of suicide and the method whereby
life has been taken” contribute to suicide

Dublin, 1963
“we have non-anecdotal and systematic evidence supporting the view that newspapers do exert such
an effect (promoting of suicide) in a major metropolitan population”.

“if the press would refrain from exploiting suicide by disclosing all the gruesome details and would
publish only a casual death notice, a very defi nite reform would be achieved”.


Review

Pirkis, J. and Blood, R. W., 2001 Crisis,
22: 146-154 and 155-162
“there is an association…it satisfi es sufficient of the criteria of consistency, strength, temporality,
specificity and coherence for it to be deemed causal”.
 

Other studies
• Barraclough et al, 1977
• Church and Phillips, 1984
• Phillips and Carstensen, 1986
• Gould and Shaffer, 1986
• Schmidtke and Hafner, 1986
• Stack, 1989
• Marzuk et al, 1994
• Hassan, 1995
• Pirkis 2001, 2006
• Gould 2006


SUICIDE AND THE MEDIA - POINTS FROM RESEARCH
Research shows that suicides increase immediately after a suicide story has been publicised in
the newspapers.  The more publicity devoted to a suicide story the larger the rise in suicides thereafter. The rise in suicides after a story is restricted mainly to the area in which the story was publicised .

Shepard and Barraclough 1978 Portsmouth News –

Longer reports were written on violent suicides than on less violent suicides.  

That violent suicides were more likely to stimulate multiple reports.
Violence is more intrinsically newsworthy

Effects of a drug overdose in a television drama on presentations to hospital for self poisoning: time series and questionnaire study.
 

Keith Hawton, professor of psychiatry, University of Oxford, Department of Psychiatry.

A study found that portrayal of self poisoning in a popular television drama was associated with a short lived  increase in presentation of self poisoning patients to general hospitals.
Choice of substance taken in overdose was also influenced by the broadcast.


SUICIDE AND THE MEDIA -DANGER POINTS IN REPORTING
• Presenting simplistic explanations for suicide the final precipitating event is not the only cause

    of  a given suicide.
• Never the result of a single factor or event.
• Romanticised or sensational media coverage of suicide may foster an affinity with those who

   committed suicide and confer an aura of celebrity on them.
• Glorifying suicide or those who commit suicide.
• Focusing solely on the suicide compleater’s characteristics.
• Engaging in repetitive, ongoing, or excessive reporting of suicide in the news.
• Providing sensational coverage of suicide.
• Presenting suicide as a tool for accomplishing certain ends.


SUICIDE AND THE MEDIA
• Reported suicides may encourage others, try not to add to the risk
• They should be reported in moderate terms
• Reporters should usually avoid details of method, describe them in general terms unless there is good
reason to go into details
• Interviews with the bereaved must not be gratuitous and they must be arranged and conducted sensitively
• Media should not be scape-goated
• Opportunity for co-operation and community education
• Evidence that this can be achieved (Sonneck, 1997; Etzersdorfer and Sonneck, 1998; Michel et al, 2000)

 
Guidelines for the reporting of suicide
• IAS/Samaritans
• IASP (International Association for Suicide Prevention)
• World Health Organization
• AFSP (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention)
• National Union of Journalists
 

SENSITIVE REPORTING SAVES LIVES

Dr John Connolly

16, New Antrim St
Castlebar
Co. Mayo
Ireland
Phone:+353 (0)94 9250858
Fax: +353 (0)94 9250859
E-mail:[email protected]