IPSO Blog: Relaunched Samaritans media guidelines can help journalists report suicide responsibly

Standards Officer Rosemary Douce on how the recently relaunched Samaritans media guidelines can help journalists covering deaths by suicide.

Samaritans have recently relaunched their guidance for the media on reporting suicide responsibly.

IPSO has worked with Samaritans for many years and were pleased to be included amongst a number of organisations who worked with them to help shape the media guidelines.

Suicide can be a challenging and complex subject to report, with the potential for serious consequences if the subject is not reported responsibly. For example, research shows that including too many details in reporting about how a person took their own life can lead to that method being imitated by others.

Why is it important that suicide is reported?

Suicide is a significant public health issue, with more than 6,000 people across the UK and Republic of Ireland taking their own lives each year.

The death of an individual is a matter of public record and a death may affect a community as well as those who knew the individual personally. Journalists have a basic right to report the fact of a person’s death, even if surviving family members regard the death as private.

Reporting can encourage people to seek help and to speak about suicidal feelings. Stories can highlight that suicide is preventable and direct vulnerable people to sources of support.

The Editors’ Code on reporting of suicide

The Editors’ Code, the set of rules regulated publishers must follow, recognises the importance of reporting suicide responsibly and requires that editors avoid including excessive detail of the method. Reporting of suicide was made a standalone clause in the Editors’ Code in 2016 and the risk of “simulative acts” was explicitly added.

What does Samaritans’ guidance say?

Although publishers’ regulatory requirements are to uphold the Editors’ Code, we would encourage journalists and editors to consider the Samaritans' perspective when making their own decisions on coverage. Some of the key messages in the guidance are:

  • Include references to suicide being preventable and signpost sources of support, such as the Samaritans’ helpline.
  • Avoid using language that sensationalises or glorifies suicide.
  • Refrain from providing information, such as the height of a bridge or cliff, and steer clear of terms like “notorious suicide spot.”
  • Don’t describe a suicide method as quick, easy, painless or effective.

More information

IPSO has lots of resources for editors on journalists on reporting suicide responsibly, including guidance, a series of blogs with Samaritans, and a podcast. We also offer 24 hour non-binding pre-publication advice for regulated publishers and can prove free bespoke training on the Editors’ Code.

You can find Samaritans media guidelines on their website, or on IPSO’s external resources page for journalists which includes guidance and advice and other media resources on a range of challenging topics, along with numbers of press offices, which may be useful.

Samaritans have also launched a new media hub which features resources for reporting on celebrity suicides, inquests, youth suicides, self-harm and suicide clusters, as well as information for television programme makers. They can also deliver advice sessions via Zoom to explain the context of suicidal behaviour and what to be aware of when covering this topic in the media. For further information please contact mediaadvice@samaritans.org

Need support? Samaritans are available to listen 24 hours, 365 days a year and can be called for free on: 116 123