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NAMI’s Message to Media: Suicide Coverage Must Change

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September 1, 2011

CONCORD, N.H. - Certain types of news coverage can increase the risk of suicide in vulnerable individuals, according to more than 50 studies cited by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) would like to see the media change their ways.

While sensationalism sells, says Ken Norton, executive director for NAMI-New Hampshire, glamorizing suicide can have dire effects.

"Media coverage that's very graphic or explicit, or some ways normalizes or glamorizes suicide, can contribute to other suicide deaths."

For the first time in several years, new recommendations were issued for the media in its coverage of suicide. The recommendations were endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.

According to studies, the risk increases for "copycat" suicides when news stories explicitly describe the suicide method, use dramatic headlines or images, and use repeated or extensive coverage.

Media has been very effective when it comes to other public health issues such as smoking or using seat belts, Norton says, helping to dispel myths and change public attitudes. The media could have a positive influence on suicide, he says, by covering it in a more responsible way.

"Reporting on suicide as a public-health issue would be very beneficial in terms of promoting people to get help that need help, and changing attitudes around mental illness and substance abuse disorders by promoting how effective treatment is available."
The new media guidelines are online at reportingonsuicide.org.

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - NH