Unsafe Reporting on Suicide Can Cost Lives

An Open Letter from AFSP CEO Robert Gebbia

08/12/2014

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The research is clear: inappropriate messaging of deaths by suicide can trigger others to attempt suicide.

Your help is especially important with reporting on the death of Robin Williams, as your story will reach a wide audience, including people already at risk, who may be contemplating suicide.Word choice, phrasing, and content matters. Please take a moment to make sure your reporting is safe. You just might save a life.

I hope Williams’s death will start a thoughtful conversation about suicide and mental health. Take the opportunity to encourage readers struggling with mental health issues to seek the help they need to get well—and stay—healthy.

Please see our short guide to safe reporting.

Thank you for helping to prevent suicide.

Bob Gebbia.

CEO, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

DO:

  • DO include links to treatment services, warning signs, and suicide hotline (1-800-273-TALK (8255).
  • DO include stories of hope.
  • DO monitor comment sections to identify hurtful statements, or people expressing suicidal thoughts.
  • DO contact an expert on suicide to get the facts.
  • DO report suicide as a health issue.

AVOID:

  • AVOID showing videos or photos of the method or location used.
  • AVOID framing suicide in terms of success: do not say committed suicide; do not say suicide attempts are successful or failed. Instead say died by suicide.
  • AVOID romanticizing the death.
  • AVOID describing suicide rates as skyrocketing, or as an epidemic, or other strong terms.
  • AVOID publishing text from a suicide note.
  • AVOID quoting police or first responders.
  • AVOID describing a suicide as inexplicable or without warning.