With extensive changes towards Singapore’s suicide landscape over the years, the role of media outlets and agencies in facilitating safer and more effective discussions and representations around suicide are crucial now more than ever.
Guidelines for presenting suicide:
These media guidelines provided by SOS are advisory and are in no way exhaustive. It is also not the intention of SOS to limit press freedom in any way. These guidelines aim to help media professionals ensure that their materials are as accurate, responsible and ethical as possible, and avoid common pitfalls when presenting suicide through media.
Guidelines includes but is not limited to the following:-
- Avoid sensationalising/ normalising suicide
- Avoid explicit details such as the method, individual, and circumstance involved in the suicide
- Exercise caution in reporting celebrity suicides
- Show consideration for those bereaved by suicide
- Do provide information on available resources and encourage help-seeking
1. Consider Your Reach
Before crafting the angle or storyline, it’s important to assess your target audience as well as others who may be exposed to the content. Extra caution should be taken if your content reaches youths or individuals at risk of suicidal thoughts and ideation, or other vulnerable members of the community.
2. Insert Trigger Warnings
While not entirely fail-safe, including trigger warnings at the start of the article or show will give viewers the choice of whether watching it will be suitable for them or not, especially for those with any related past trauma.
3. Convey the Complexity of Suicide
Often, there are many factors that drive an individual to suicide
(social, psychological, financial, etc.), which most people are not aware of. Conveying the complexity of suicide, and avoiding simplistic explanations such as attributing a suicide death to a single event or factor, will help to shed light on the various background factors that plays into a person’s decision to end their life.
4. Exercise Caution in Language Used
Do consider the choice of words used. ‘Eye-catching’ phrases in the headline and body of the article, or lines in your script, may dramatise or sensationalise the suicide death and could unintentionally lead to its glorification.
5. Carefully Consider the Images or Videos Used
Excessively emotive or sensational images and videos relating to suicide deaths can potentially glorify the idea of suicide instead of informing, and could lead to at- risk individuals over-identifying with the victim in the report or the character in the show.
6. Treat Social Media with Caution
When circulating a suicide death report, or show involving suicide on
social media, extra caution should be taken. It may be best to avoid providing links to comments or articles that could potentially glamourise suicide, as well as to restrict commenting on suicide-related posts. Caution should also be exercised when deciding whether to enable push notifications.
7. Show Respect for the Bereaved
While for many, the reporting of a suicide death in an article, or the portrayal of a suicide death in a show may be a fleeting occurrence, it ultimately involves the loss of an individual through unfortunate circumstances. Respect for the deceased should be duly accorded.
8. Provide Avenues for Support
Providing resources for at-risk individuals or members of the wider community who may need someone to speak to is essential, such as SOS’ 24-hour Hotline and 24-hour CareText services.
1. Provide Sensitive or Explicit Details of the Suicide Method
When reporting a suicide death or
portraying it in the media, it’s best to provide minimal details regarding the method used. This includes (but
isn’t limited to):
• The method of suicide.
• Suicide notes and its contents.
• Referring to suicide as ‘painless’ or ‘easy’.
• Any additional information that would bring harm to the victim’s loved ones.
For example, if someone has jumped off a ledge, do not share what floor they were on, or the area that they went to. Additionally, it’s also best not to introduce new or uncommon methods of suicide, as it increases the likelihood of copycat incidents. Doing any of the above may give individuals the perception that suicide is a natural cause of action, and provides them with unnecessary information that may help them to carry out their plans.
2. Over-Dramatise Suicide
This includes (but isn’t limited to):
• Using overly dramatic or aggressive terms – this can perpetuate stigma.
• Portraying suicide as ‘inevitable’ – suicides are often preventable.
• Referring to a suicide death or attempt as ‘successful’ or ‘failed’.
• Reporting/portraying the suicide death in explicit detail – this could give at-risk individuals ideas on how to carry out their plans or may be triggering to youths and other vulnerable audiences.
• Reporting/portraying suicide as an easy or painless act, or certain to result in death.
3. Over-Report Suicide
Avoid excessive or repetitive coverage of suicide in the media. This includes (but isn’t limited to):
• Repeated promotions of an article, tagging it as a feature, or placing it on the front page of the newspaper, especially when involving the death of a high-profile individual.
• Repeated promotions of a film or television show that involves suicide, especially if the promotions are targeted towards more vulnerable communities such as youths or at-risk individuals.
4. Glorify Suicide Locations
Refrain from labelling areas where suicide deaths frequently occur as ‘hot spots’, as it may provide at-risk individuals with ideas on where to carry out their plans, or could inspire copycat behaviour among viewers.
Do not speculate regarding the cause of the suicide death or the ‘trigger’. Suicide is a complex issue, and there’s usually no one specific event that leads an individual to a suicide death.
6. ‘Oversimplify’ Suicide
Oversimplification of suicide can cause misleading perceptions, and may put at-risk individuals in greater danger of carrying out their plans. This includes (but isn’t limited to):
• Sensationalised headlines, such as ‘bullied to death’, which oversimplifies suicide and can influence at-risk individuals in suicidal behaviour if they are being bullied.
• Linking suicide deaths to a single incident or factor – suicide is a complex issue and is often the result of multiple factors, and at-risk individuals are more likely to identify with the victim.
• Providing unsubstantiated links or information about suicide that may cause misconceptions in the community.
• Presenting suicide as an understandable or natural reaction to an issue. This may cause individuals to view suicide as an appropriate response when facing stressful situations.