13 reasons why: the media need to learn how to report on suicide

This has been a terrible week. So terrible that it’s hard to think about our world or to focus on any particular problem. However, the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have risen above the roar for me. I don’t watch a lot of television, especially in the daytime. But this has been my week to get 101 medical things taken care of, which means I’ve been sitting in many waiting rooms with televisions blaring. Even if I didn’t want to know details about these deaths, they have bombarded me. I am appalled by the coverage. We need to better. Here are 13 suggestions.

  1. Don’t use the phrase “commit suicide.” Crimes are committed. People die because of suicide. Suicide is an illness
  2. Don’t squeeze every drop of juicy detail out of these stories. In the wake of suicide, especially when they involve people as well known as Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, risk for “contagion” suicides increase. 
  3. Don’t glamorize suicide. This is hard when the deceased is famous and glamorous to begin with. Think about the newsworthiness of the death and not about click bait. 
  4. Emphasize hope for the healing of living people, friends, and family who are wrestling with this demon.
  5. Don’t write about method. Details about the manner of death have no business in the media, both out of respect for families and because such descriptions can trigger vulnerable people. 
  6. Don’t report on the content of a suicide note. This is salacious and hurts families.
  7. Don’t assume that friends and families have failed folks who’ve died.
  8. Learn about suicide. While depression is often a part of a victim’s narrative, it isn’t always visible to work colleagues, friends, or even to family. People with depression can be high functioning and still vulnerable.
  9. Anxiety is also a potential part of a victim’s story. We tend to gaslight anxiety with careless language such as “She’s just a worry wart” or “He’s an Eyore” or “They are neurotic.” Anxiety causes suffering and should be taken seriously.
  10. People who choose suicide are not “selfish.” They are mentally ill.
  11. Suicide knows no boundaries. Being successful, famous, and wealthy are not antidotes to this disease.
  12. Shame is woven into fabric of this disease. We need to uplift families and find ways to make it easier for people to find support before they become desperate. We need to spend more time talking about prevention.
  13. Go to the website for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to find help from the experts. If you’re in the media, the Foundation offers “Top 10 Tips for Reporting on Suicide.” 

Sending all good things out to everyone touched by suicide and to women and men struggling with depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Call 1-800-273-8255

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