The Canadian Psychiatric Association (CPA) is urging its members to
collaborate with journalists and editors who are covering stories about
suicide to educate them about ways of reporting that do not encourage"
copycat" behavior or increase stigma.
This was one of the recommendations in a policy paper titled "Media
Guidelines for Reporting Suicide," in which the CPA summarized
recommendations formulated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention and the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (among other
organizations) for journalists.
"Since media often call psychiatrists to comment on suicide,"
states the paper, "it is crucial for psychiatrists to have this
knowledge readily available. These requests can be an opportunity for
educating the media and ultimately saving lives."
"This policy paper is intended for psychiatrists to have on hand if
they get contacted by journalists," said Josh Nepon, M.D., a first-year
resident at the University of Manitoba and an author of the policy paper."
The take-home message is that there is solid evidence in the
psychiatric literature that there are dangerous and safe ways of reporting
"These recommendations need to be in media hands so they can
implement them," Nepon told Psychiatric News. "They will
The recommendations include avoiding reporting the following:
In contrast, the recommendations encourage journalists to convey the
following when reporting a suicide: alternatives to suicide (that is,
treatment); community resource information for those with suicidal ideation;
examples of a positive outcome of a suicidal crisis, such as calling a suicide
hotline; warning signs of suicidal behavior; and ways to approach a suicidal
Similar recommendations have been published by the American Foundation for
Suicide Prevention, in collaboration with the American Association of
Suicidology, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National
Institute of Mental Health, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services
Administration, the Office of the Surgeon General, and the Annenberg Public
Nepon said there is evidence of the way journalism can influence suicide
contagion. In the 1980s a rash of suicides occurred in Austria by people
throwing themselves in front of subway trains; the suicides were publicized in
a way that a "copycat effect" began to be obvious to policymakers
and psychiatrists as well as to the media, he said.
The epidemic abated after guidelines for "safe" media reporting
were produced and media outlets began to monitor their reporting, Nepon
Nepon said the CPA policy paper is an outgrowth of the Swampy Cree Suicide
Prevention Team (SCSPT), led by Canadian psychiatrist Jitender Sareen, M.D.
The Swampy Cree are an Aboriginal tribe in northern Manitoba. According to the
Web site of the SCSPT, "Suicide, especially in Aboriginal youth, is an
enormous problem in Canada. Although not well understood, Aboriginal suicidal
behavior is a complex problem linked to individual, family, community, and
"Media Guidelines for Reporting Suicide" is posted at<http://publications.cpa-apc.org/media.php?mid=733&xwm=true>.
The CDC's recommendations are posted at<www.cdc.gov/mmwr//preview/mmwrhtml/00031539.htm>.
Recommendations by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention are posted