Editorial: Sensitive topics hard to report
Suicide is a topic that comes up regularly and we at the newspaper try to strike a balance between the reporting of a death by suicide, and the feelings and wishes of surviving family members.
We have attended seminars and try to keep in mind guidelines published by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
There are many factors that enter into the reporting of a suicide. These include the prominence of an individual, such as being a public figure, and the manner of suicide, whether it was done in a public area that required a very noticeable response of police, fire and ambulance services.
Often the first thought of survivors is to cover up the death of a loved one by suicide. Unfortunately, that does not always result in a desired outcome. Unacknowleged suicides within a family can create confusion and questions for survivors well into the future as they get unreliable details from unintended sources.
Even suicide deaths in a relatively private location are subject to information that leaks out, especially in this day and age.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention essentially sees some value in the reporting of deaths by suicide, but hopes that most reports emphasize the prevention of suicide and where readers can go for help. The organization sees the acknowledgement as part of the healing process.
The bottom line is that there are numerous factors and issues when it comes to reporting suicides. None are easy or automatic to sort out and follow.
Here are the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention recommendations for media language when reporting suicides:
—Whenever possible, it is preferable to avoid referring to suicide in the headline. Unless the suicide death took place in public, the cause of death should be reported in the body of the story.
—In the body of the story, it is preferable to describe the deceased as “having died by suicide,” rather than as “a suicide” or having “committed suicide.” The latter two expressions reduce the person to the mode of death, or connote criminal or sinful behavior.
—Contrasting “suicide deaths” with “non-fatal attempts” is preferable to using terms such as “successful,” “unsuccessful” or “failed.”
At the newspaper, we try to limit suicide coverage to essential details and to include information on suicide prevention resources in our reporting. There’s nothing glamorous, clever or endearing about suicide. And there’s no pleasure to be found in the pain of others.
We never want to make a death by suicide look glamorous—that sort of coverage could encourage “copycat” incidents.
In reality, people contemplating suicide often suffer from some emotional or mental disorder. The act of suicide is more the result of an illness than a rational act. Because of that, people should know where help is available.
Anyone concerned about themselves or a loved one may call the national suicide prevention lifeline at (800) 273-TALK (8255).
Other resources include:
—American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, www.afsp.org.
—St. Croix County Department of Health and Human Services, 715-246-6991; Pierce County Department of Public Health, 715-273-6782.
—St. Croix County Battle Buddy Network, (715) 869-6127 (call or text).
—Veterans Crisis Line, (800) 273-8255.
—Hospital or Emergency Room.
—Local police/sheriff’’s department, 911.
—Prevent Suicide Wisconsin, www.preventsuicidewi.org.
—NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), www.nami.org.
—SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), www.samhsa.gov.
—Mental Health America—Wisconsin, www.mhawisconsin.org.
—American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, www.afsp.org.