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Safe Messaging Matters

The way in which we talk about suicide can either increase risk among individuals thinking of suicide or encourage them to get help. Safe messaging should promote resiliency, encourage help-seeking, publicize prevention successes, and encourage actions that help prevent suicide.

Decades of research from around the world shows that news reports and fictional accounts of suicide (including mass media, news media, books, movies, T.V. shows, etc.) can lead to increases in suicide, particularly among youth. In contrast, safe messaging which promotes hope and encourages help seeking can save lives.

The risk of contagion is related to the amount, duration, prominence, and content of media coverage. For example, large and descriptive headlines, as well as prominent placement of stories, graphic details, and posting the suicide note can glamorize a death and encourage “copycat suicides” or “suicide contagion.” Using harmful terminology such as “committed suicide” instead of “died by suicide” may be painful for attempt survivors and family members as the term “committed” may imply a criminal act. Additionally, citing a single reason for a suicide death can also be a dangerous message. Suicide is a complex issue and the majority of individuals who die by suicide have a myriad of factors that may have contributed to their death, including a mental health illness.

Balancing suicide coverage and other media portrayals of suicide with treatment options, stories of recovery, and resources for help can change public misconception, correct myths, and encourage individuals to seek help.

National Recommendations for Depicting Suicide

Developed by the Action Alliance, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the Entertainment Industries Council, help members of the entertainment industry – content creators, scriptwriters, producers – tell more balanced and authentic stories involving suicide and suicide prevention.

Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide

The Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide were developed by leading experts in suicide prevention, international suicide prevention and public health organizations, schools of journalism, media organizations and key journalists as well as Internet safety experts for journalists and reporters who publish stories on suicide. The recommendations are based on more than 50 international studies on suicide contagion.

Social Media Guidelines for Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention

The Entertainment Industries Council has provided tips for organizations and individuals communicating about mental health and suicide on social media to reduce stigma, increase help seeking behavior, and help prevent suicide.

National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention

The Framework for Successful Messaging is a resource to help people develop suicide prevention messages that are strategic, safe, positive, and make use of relevant guidelines and best practices. It addresses “public messaging” or any communications released into the public domain. From posters, PSAs, and social media to websites, newsletters, fundraising appeals, event publicity, press interactions, public talks, and advocacy efforts, each contributes to the public’s perceptions about suicide and suicide prevention.