STUMP » Articles » Literal Suicide and Media » 8 May 2017, 13:32

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Literal Suicide and Media  


8 May 2017, 13:32

One of my friends posted the following item on facebook, publicly.:

People I love you and I know just about all of you work very hard (in many ways harder than me) to make the world a better place.

HERE’S WHAT’S REALLY BOTHERING ME: Many of us in the mental health advocacy world have faced a very uphill battle in our work…Even at times when we were (against the advice of colleagues) willing to give our time/energy away for free. And very often we were (falsely) told that talking about the issues of mental health and suicide might be dangerous in the settings we were proposing…Despite the fact that the research suggests otherwise and we were often following very clear guidelines set by people far smarter than ourselves.

NOW, we have some stories (Aaron Hernandez/13 Reasons Why) where the issues actually ARE being reported/discussed in a very dangerous matter and some of the same people who were so unwilling to have the safe/productive conversations in the past are initiating some very unproductive/dangerous conversations at the present time.

PLEASE, PLEASE….LISTEN to the voices of trained professionals and those with lived experience (FYI—-Many of us also speak with each other and we agree a very large percentage of the time). IT WILL SAVE LIVES….And if you or anyone you know is struggling please call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline ’1-800-273-TALK (8255)’ or text Crisis Text Line

Thank you all and sending good thoughts!!

I have information about suicide trends I have been putting off until the height of summer to post.

But I want to address this in light of my prior post on the death of expertise.

There are all sorts of media malpractice, and most of the time, it does little more than take up people’s time. Sometimes people are distracted, sometimes misinformed, sometimes ill-informed…. all sorts of things.

But some media coverage can feed into all sorts of bad things.


Here is the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention page on resources for journalists.

Their tip sheet is the same as the tips on the site Reporting on

I was going to ask my friend Efrem (who did the post above), but I thought “hmmm, what if I didn’t know Ef? What would I do?”

I would google “reporting standards for suicide”.

Those were the top results. Simply put, anybody having to report on a suicide story could pause for a moment, think “Hey, this may be a sensitive subject; maybe there are tips on how to approach this” and just google something as simple as reporting on suicide.

Oh, and there’s a resource for blogging on suicide. I read it, and many of the tips are the same. The distinction is that some blogs have comment sections (I don’t, obviously), so they refer to that specifically. I read through it before posting this.


Points made by the experts:

More than 50 research studies worldwide have found that certain types of news coverage can increase the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable individuals. The magnitude of the increase is related to the amount, duration, and prominence of coverage.

Risk of additional suicides increases when the story explicitly describes the suicide method, uses dramatic/graphic headlines or images, and repeated/extensive coverage sensationalizes or glamorizes a death. Suicide Contagion, or“Copycat Suicide,” occurs when one or more suicides are reported in a way that contributes to another suicide.

Covering suicide carefully, even briefly, can change public misperceptions and correct myths, which can encourage those who are vulnerable or at risk to seek help.

Obviously this advice is coming from organizations specifically intended to prevent suicide. I can understand a journalist being a bit loathe to practice advocacy in their straight reporting (look, there still are some people like that.)

However, many of the tips have nothing to do with that — it seeks to prevent sensationalizing or glamorizing suicide. There’s really no good reason, from ethical journalistic practice, to do that.

And the problem is, of course, with the media struggle to keep attention and thus keep ad revenue, sensationalizing is often the preferred avenue.

Might I recommend more fluffy celeb coverage if that’s what you want?

Oh and look – they have a place for journalists to contact experts.


As a result of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, there is a petition to ask the producers to link to the suicide hotline info, and some others have their own reaction. They mention this factoid: “Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15 to 34-year-olds.”

While this is true, suicide rates are actually much higher for older people — but not a top cause, because they’re dying at much higher rates for so many things. I will write about this another time.

Some people are pushing back at the TV show in various ways — Oxford High School students begin project called ‘13 Reasons Why Not’

In the popular Netflix show “13 Reasons Why,” the main character gives 13 reasons why she wants to die. But, for students at Oxford High School, they are giving 13 reasons to live.

Beginning this week and continuing for 13 days, a recording of a different student will play during the morning announcements. In the recording, played for the entire student body, the teens reveal a problem they’re struggling with. At the end of the recording, instead of blaming someone, the students thank a classmate who has helped them.

This project was the brainchild of Dean of Oxford High School Pam Fine in memory of Megan Abbott, a freshman who completed suicide four years ago.

“I watched the series. I thought it accurately depicted the problems that teenagers in high school are facing now. But it was incredibly troubling to me that suicide was portrayed as being, almost, inevitable, like she had no other option,” said Fine.

“The idea was to come up with 13 reasons why not, because that was not portrayed in the show. … Even though it can get very dark, there is always hope. Our message is that there are no 13 reasons why. Suicide is not an option.”

I will note that the piece follows the recommendations that I linked to earlier.

Psychologist Helen Smith comments: 13 Reasons Why Not

I just recently heard about the new Netflix show “13 Reasons Why” which is a show that discusses the details of the suicide of a young teenage girl
I wonder how much of the increased suicide rate for teens is due to males of that age having issues that no one cares about? Society rarely cares about the emotional lives of men at any age. It’s always about girls and women. Even with all the men killing themselves, it is usually a girl or woman’s story that is told. Same with 13 Reasons Why. The main character who kills herself is female.

What we need to remember is that in order to reduce completed suicides (men and boys choose more fatal methods), we need to address the problems of men and boys in this society. Until we are willing to do that, we will not see a significant decrease in suicidal behavior given all that is going on in today’s tumultuous world.

And as for Netflix having a show about a girl committing suicide and glamorizing it? I have 13 Reasons (or more) why they should not: It is detrimental to the mental health of kids in our country and in our communities. Say that 13 times.

But the real problem is isolated boys who are getting little or no mental health treatment or treatment that is inadequate. It is a society that sweeps the problems of boys and men under the rug and then wonders why so many decide that life is not worth living. Or worse, the society itself creates the problems for men and boys with its hatred and disdain for all things masculine. If you want to help change the suicide rate, talk to a boy you know or love or both and fight for him the way you would fight for women and girls—at school, in the community and in the society at large.

To do less is to leave open the possibility of a tragedy like suicide—especially for those boys who have depression or other mental illness. No family should have to go through the pain of a teen suicide; our kids deserve better.

The suicide rate for males is much higher than that of females, at all ages. The overall age-adjusted rates are such that men have a suicide rate over 4 times that of women, a relationship that has held for decades in the U.S. Dr. Smith above mentions some of the reasons this may be. I am here just to say this is the case.


American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has a support page, for those who are thinking about suicide and for people affected by suicide.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

A free, 24/7 confidential service that can provide people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, or those around them, with support, information, and local resources.

Crisis Text Line

This free text-message service provides 24/7 support to those in crisis. Text 741-741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor right away.

Efrem Epstein, whom I quoted above, is the founder of the non-profit Elijah’s Journey, which is focused on suicide awareness and prevention in the Jewish community.


I have my own interest in mortality trends, which is the culmination of many things. Sometimes I can dig into why, but usually what I’m trying to do is figure out the magnitude of the issue.

And the magnitude of the suicide trend is pretty bad. And it’s hitting specific groups specifically hard. As I mentioned, I will address this at the height of summer.

In the meantime, media, please remember that you can provide excellent coverage without sensationalizing something that is a serious public health problem. Please listen to the experts on this one.

As Efrem says, there is pretty wide consensus about the specific recommendations, which does not require a lot of changes on the part of media, other than reducing the sensation.

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