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A Journalist’s Responsibility When Reporting a Suicide

In the wake of yet another young life taken by suicide, I felt that it would be a good time to remind the community, particularly the media, about the importance of responsible reporting. The way media chooses to report on a suicide death can play a huge role in influencing the public’s response. It can affect it negatively by contributing to others’ suicidal thoughts and possible attempts or positively by encouraging individuals to seek help.

While reporting on what is happening in the community is important, it is imperative to report suicide in a manner that is respectful to the deceased, sensitive to the loved ones left behind, and does not sensationalize the death. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, risk of additional suicides increases when the story explicitly describes the suicide method, uses dramatic or graphic headlines or images, and repeated/extensive coverage sensationalizes and glamorizes a death.

As many of you already know, when a suicide occurs, the survivors (those who survived the loss of a loved one) are put at an increased risk to have suicidal thoughts or to even follow through with an attempt themselves. Understanding this fact is critical when reaching out to an extended audience. Offering messages of hope, local mental health resources, hotline numbers, and/or warning signs of suicide are important pieces that should fit into the article.

Below are some helpful tips from on best practices in reporting:

Instead of This: Big or sensationalistic headlines, or prominent placement (e.g., “Kurt Cobain Used Shotgun to Commit Suicide”).

Do This: Inform the audience without sensationalizing the suicide and minimize prominence (e.g., “Kurt Cobain Dead at 27”).


Instead of this: Including photos/videos of the location or method of death, grieving family, friends, memorials or funerals.

Do this: Use school/work or family photo; include hotline logo or local crisis phone numbers.


Instead of this: Describing recent suicides as an “epidemic,” “skyrocketing,” or other strong terms.

Do this: Carefully investigate the most recent CDC data and use non-sensational words like “rise” or “higher.”


Instead of this: Describing a suicide as inexplicable or “without warning.”

Do this: Most, but not all, people who die by suicide exhibit warning signs. Include the “Warning Signs” and “What to Do” sidebar in your article if possible.


Instead of this: “John Doe left a suicide note saying…”.

Do this: “A note from the deceased was found and is being reviewed by the medical examiner.”


Instead of this: Investigating and reporting on suicide similar to reporting on crime.

Do this: Report on suicide as a public health issue.


 Instead of this: Quoting/interviewing police or first responders about the causes of suicide

Do this: Seek advice from suicide prevention experts.


Instead of this: Referring to suicide as “successful,” “unsuccessful” or a “failed attempt.”

Do this: Describe as “died by suicide” or “completed” or “killed him/herself.” Never use the word “commit” or “committed” when referring to suicide. “Die by suicide,” is the correct language to use.



About Jill Hamilton, The Kim Foundation Project Coordinator
Jill graduated with a degree in Journalism and a minor in Speech Communication from the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 2009.  Since becoming Project Coordinator at The Kim Foundation in April 2014, she has become an active member of the Nebraska State Suicide Prevention Coalition, The Omaha Metro Hoarding Taskforce, the Early Childhood Mental Health Coalition, the Metro Area LOSS Team, and is helping lead a community-wide health improvement initiative with the Douglas County Health Department called, “Just Reach Out,” which is focused on improving the people’s view on mental and behavioral health treatment.