Suicide and the Press: A Reflection on the last 10 years
Suicide is one of the greatest taboos in society today. More than 800,000 people die by suicide every year and there are many more that attempt to take their own lives (WHO 2012). My research into suicide started over a decade ago, when I first started examining British Press representations of the Bridgend Suicides in Wales. One of the fundamental purposes of journalism is to tell us what we need to know as citizens. A journalist has a social responsibility to report suicides, not only to create awareness of the issues involved, but also to help prevent suicide. Journalists have important public platforms from which they are able to shed light on social issues, delve deeper into topics that are uncomfortable and, in some cases, create public awareness of some of the early warning signs to look for in a potential suicide case so that people might be better equipped to help loved ones. As part of this social responsibility, journalists should report on suicide without creating panic.
This paper will take you on a journey over the last 10 years, exploring how suicide is reported in the Press. Starting with the Bridgend suicides, I will explore the discursive categories of description around suicide that are now applied across all news reporting. I will discuss how these discursive categories have informed World Health Organisation Media Reporting Guidelines for Journalists and also Blogging Guidelines. I will debate Netflix’s popular TV serial, 13 Reasons Why, and explore the ‘panic’ that emerged following it’s airing. I will conclude the session with early findings from my most recent project looking at Journalism Student’s Perspectives on Suicide. I will explore here my collaboration with the Hunter Institute of Mental Health in Australia (now EveryMind), the problems I had in gaining ethics approval, and the larger issues/fears that journalism degree programmes in the UK and Ireland have had with allowing their students to participate in the research.