Suicide prevention: interim report Contents


32.Irresponsible media reporting and portrayals of suicide can lead to copycat behaviour, especially among young people and those already at risk.47 Descriptions of novel or emerging suicide methods can lead to more people choosing to take their lives using one of these methods.

33.There are already clear guidelines for the media, in particular Samaritans’ Media Guidelines for Reporting Suicide.48 Public Health England’s guide for local areas on how to respond rapidly to clusters of suicide also includes management of the media.49 The main issue relating to the media is the failure to universally implement the guidance. Except for the responsible reporting of suicide clause in the Editors’ Code of Practice (which Samaritans argue needs strengthening), all other guidelines are voluntary and there appear to be no consequences for blatant breaches of the guidelines, whether wilful or ignorant.

34.During the course of our inquiry, we have identified several instances of inappropriate reporting and portrayal of suicide, all by leading broadcasters and mainstream newspapers. We note with concern the widespread continued use of the term “commit suicide”, which reinforces stigmatising attitudes from a time when suicide was a criminal offence. When we questioned Public Health England, they did not believe that they were responsible for taking action to counter irresponsible reporting, nor could they identify whose responsibility it was to do so.50

35.We also note the role of the internet and social media in promoting suicidal behaviour. The internet provides the means for individuals to easily access information about suicide methods. Participants in a recent study by the University of Bristol exploring the impact of the Internet on suicidal behaviour “discussed how exposure to suicide content, including reading about others’ suicide or suicide attempts, had served to validate or justify this as an acceptable option/legitimate course of action.”51 However while the internet is a source of potential harm, it can also be a source of benefit. As Dr Ann John told us, “online communities can be quite supportive. It is not all bad, particularly for vulnerable groups like young people from LGBT communities, to be able to express these thoughts but then be encouraged to seek help. It can be a positive thing.”52

36.We recommend that the suicide prevention strategy should review the accountability and responsibility for the adherence to media guidelines. The guidelines must have teeth and the refreshed suicide prevention strategy must make clear who is responsible for dealing with breaches by the media, at national and local level. We recommend that the refreshed suicide prevention strategy should include a commitment by the Government to work with internet providers and social media platforms to consider what changes should be made to restrict access to sites which encourage self harm or give detailed advice on suicide methods.

47 UK Faculty of Public Health (SPR0107); YoungMinds (SPR0071) para 5.1; Association of Directors of Public Health (SPR0049)

48 Samaritans, Media Guidelines for Reporting Suicide, 5th edition (September 2013)

49 Public Health England, Preventing suicides in public places

50 Q390 and Q391 [Professor Kevin Fenton]

51 Dr Lucy Biddle (SPR0093)

52 Q48 [Dr Ann John]

15 December 2016