Guest Blog: Samaritans Media Advisory Service and guidelines

In the first of our series of guest blogs from Samaritans, Lorna Fraser, Executive Lead of Samaritans’ Media Advisory Service introduces the service and its guidelines to support safe and informative coverage of suicide and self-harm.

At Samaritans we run a Media Advisory Service, offering free advice and training to journalists to support informed and safe coverage of suicide. 

We recognise that suicide is a complex topic which presents a real challenge for journalists, who have to balance reporting on a sensitive issue that is in the public interest, while managing the associated risk of inadvertently encouraging imitational suicidal behaviour by those who may be vulnerable. 

Research shows that certain types of reporting can lead to increased rates of suicides 

Significant research has been carried out across the world over the last five decades which links certain types of media reporting of suicide with increases in suicide rates. This includes reports which give detailed accounts of suicide methods, if stories are placed prominently and if the coverage is sensationalised and/or extensive. 

This type of coverage increases people’s awareness of suicide methods and their effectiveness. It can also lead to suicide ideation, through what is known as ‘social contagion’, whereby a vulnerable person can over-identify with certain characteristics of a person who is reported to have taken their own life, potentially influencing their own belief that suicide could be a suitable option. 

Samaritans’ Media Guidelines can help journalists report sensitively 

Samaritans’ Media Guidelines for Reporting Suicide, first published back in 1994, promote sensitive and appropriate reporting of suicide and provide practical recommendations for journalists. Our guidelines and supplementary factsheets, which include areas such as working with bereaved families in the aftermath of a suicide, reporting on rail suicides and murder-suicides can be found on our website. 

Journalists can also get in touch with us directly for help and advice on suicide stories and we make it a priority to respond quickly to these requests. IPSO is also able to offer advice about how the Editors’ Code (the set of rules that all publishers that are members must follow) applies in specific situations. 

Our guidance is in no way intended to limit the freedom of the press to report on suicide. As Charlotte Urwin, IPSO’s Head of Standards, mentioned in her previous blog, suicide is a public health issue and a topic that is very much in the public interest. 

The media has an important role to play in preventing suicides 

There is evidence showing that the media has an important role to play in supporting efforts to prevent suicides. An area of research, known as the ‘Papageno Effect’, suggests that responsible coverage of mental health and suicide prevention can have a positive effect on individuals in crisis, this can lead to them seeking help. 

Sensitive coverage showing positive examples of people who have overcome suicidal thoughts can reduce the stigma of talking about suicidal feelings and can encourage people to reach out for help. For some this can be a lifeline – a first step in getting the support they need to turn their life around. 

One very simple way of doing this is including sources of support, such as Samaritans’ helpline number in suicide stories, so that readers who may be touched by your report know how to access help. 

Samaritans is really pleased to have this opportunity to run a series of blogs with IPSO covering our Media Advisory Service and highlighting how we can help advise editors and journalists on topics including reporting on suicides in public places, inquests, self-harm, young suicides and suicide clusters. 

In the meantime if you’d like to hear more information about Samaritans’ training and advice, please contact Lorna Fraser, Executive Lead Samaritans’ Media Advisory Service or Monica Hawley, Media Monitoring Officer. 

Samaritans’ helpline is available round the clock, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, whatever you are going through. It’s free to call them on 116 123 and you don’t have to be suicidal to call.


Originally published 3 May 2018.