Guest blog: Reporting on suicide inquests

In the final blog of our series with Samaritans, Lorna Fraser, Executive Lead of their Media Advisory Service, looks at reporting on suicide inquests. She also discusses, from Samaritans’ perspective, some things for journalists to consider when writing about this challenging issue.

One of the more challenging areas of suicide reporting for journalists is attending and reporting on inquests. Suicide inquests are widely covered, because they are public hearings and journalists have a right to report on legal proceedings. However, covering an inquest in a news report presents a number of unique challenges.   

Considering how to approach reporting on a suicide inquest, and what details will be included and what will be left out, should be firmly rooted in the Editors’ Code, both Clause 4 ‘intrusion into shock and grief’ and Clause 5 ‘Reporting suicide’. 

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, extensive research carried out across the world over the last sixty-plus years links certain types of media reporting with increases in suicide rates. The risk of media coverage negatively influencing people who may be vulnerable significantly increases if details of suicide methods are included, stories are placed prominently, and the coverage is sensational and/or extensive. 

Because an inquest is a formal public judicial inquiry, there can be uncertainty around the level of detail journalists should report. For example, during the inquest of a death by overdose, a coroner may hear details of the specific drug and the quantity taken. Similarly, with hanging, a coroner may detail exactly how a person hanged themselves, including the material and ligature point used. While this information is necessary for a them to reach a verdict in an inquest investigation, there is ample evidence to show that such detailed reporting is more likely to lead to ‘imitational’ suicidal behaviour. This is why Samaritans advise against reporting such details in our Media Guidelines for Reporting Suicide and why the Editors’ Code specifically states journalists must not publish excessive detail about a method of suicide. 

There is a public interest in the outcome of inquests and due to the level of detail shared during this extensive inquiry, the findings can provide clarity as to what events are likely to have lead a person to end their life. Reporting these in this wider context can be an opportunity to raise awareness of some important issues surrounding suicide. For example, highlighting some of the known risk areas which can lead to a person becoming vulnerable to suicidal behaviour – such as problems relating to mental illness, the increased risk with men and suicide, links between substance misuse and suicide, among others. 

Approaching families sensitively 

Clearly it’s important to show sensitivity towards bereaved relatives, giving particular consideration to Clause 4 (intrusion into grief or shock) when approaching such stories. 

Some families may find it cathartic to work with the press, for example to talk about the struggles their relative faced, if this can highlight the risk to others and potentially help to prevent further deaths. However, for some this can feel far too intrusive. Journalists should be aware that people who are bereaved by suicide, are themselves at greater risk of suicide contagion. The effect of having the inquest of their loved one reported in the media can be additionally distressing, particularly if extracts of a suicide note are published. 

Where possible it is better to work with the family if you are planning to report such details. While some families may wish to be left in private to deal with their loss, some may wish to talk to the press or issue a statement after an inquest, as a tribute to their loved one. An inquest can also be an opportunity to highlight things like the importance of reaching out for help and talking and to show the devastating impact of suicide on loved ones who are left behind. 

Samaritans has published some helpful guidance on Working with bereaved families in the aftermath of a suicide. We’ve also published a guide for coroners on their dealings with media. Our media advisory team regularly works with coroners behind the scenes. When an inquest is set to take place which we feel could impact on others who may be at risk, such as a young community already impacted by a death, we may publish a confidential media briefing for a coroner to share with journalists attending the court hearing. These provide specific, relevant guidance and a timely reminder of the need for care with suicide reporting. 

Some considerations for journalists when approaching inquest reports 

  • As with all suicide reporting, it is important to avoid publishing excessive details, particularly new and emerging suicide methods.
  • The content of suicide notes should be approached with caution – these can lead to romanticised accounts of a death, again increasing the risk of imitative behaviour. For example, where a person has written an apology for their actions and expressed their love for their family in a note.  
  • Care should be taken to avoid taking a coroner’s comments out of context. Examples include where a person is reported to have ‘died instantly’ or ‘suffered no pain’ or if their death is described as ‘inevitable’ for example due to their level of risk. While it may be appropriate for a coroner to make such comments when addressing bereaved loved ones in a court, reporting these details to the wider public can increase people’s perception of the effectiveness of suicide methods.  
  • Witness comments, such as a train driver giving evidence, can also be taken out of context when published and can provide potentially harmful information about the suicide method. 
  • According to the research evidence, headlines are another important consideration as they can highlight suicide methods and sensationalise suicidal behaviour. They can also over-simplify suicide if for example one of the reasons, stated by a coroner, as contributing to a person’s decision to end their life is used in a headline. We ask that journalists bear in mind that suicide is extremely complex behaviour and the possible causes and circumstances which may lead to a death should not be understated. Care should always be applied when stating a cause for suicide. Another example is in the case where initial reports may cite bullying as a cause for a death. When it comes to the full inquest inquiry, often more details as to the individual’s life circumstances can be known. 
  • Another area of importance is activity in relation to online challenges and computer games. We have seen several cases where such activity has been stated as a cause for a suicide, at the time of the death. However, at the inquest stage, when more is known about a person’s mental health and circumstances, the cause of death is often described as far more complex. 
  • The risk with reports focusing on games and challenges as a cause of death, is that these can inadvertently serve to advertise specific websites and games, potentially drawing more vulnerable people to engage in these. 
  • We have also seen an increase in use of live tweets from journalists attending inquest hearings. This presents a new challenge: these tweets are coming direct from a court hearing and are not subject to normal editorial decisions. 
  • When suicide reports are published it can be helpful to encourage help-seeking behaviour by including sources of support. 

Anyone can call Samaritans’ 24-hour helpline for free on 116123, or email or visit their local branch to speak to someone face-to-face (opening times are available on our website 

Our Media Advisory team can be reached on 0208 394 8377/020 3874 9186, out-of-hours on 07850 312224 or email 


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Originally published 7 December 2018.