Suicide in the media

'The Suicide' by ManetFrom today’s Observer, an article by Carole Cadwalladr that makes the case for the ethical reporting of suicide:

How Bridgend was damned by distortion

… the Bridgend suicides are a case unto themselves. I ask Dr Lars Johansson of Umeå University, Sweden, who has published several papers on teenage suicide, about other, larger clusters, but there hasn’t ever been one. It is the largest teen suicide cluster of modern times, he says, and there’s never been a cluster reported as sensationally, as comprehensively, as widely, or for as long. … But now that the media furore has died down, so have the deaths. Is that a coincidence? And is it just another coincidence that the highest incidence of deaths occurred when the media reporting of the phenomenon was at its height?

The available academic research on the subject of media and suicide is damning: that there is a clear, documented link. And that our thirst for the story looks, from this distance, like a sort of bloodlust. … ever since the first modern research into media and suicide was undertaken in 1974 by the sociologist David Phillips, it’s been known that mass media can be a factor in contagion. … Summing up the evidence in an article for the BMJ in 2002, Professor Keith Hawton, head of the Oxford Centre for Suicide Research, the leading UK institution and probably the world’s greatest authority on suicide and the media, describes the evidence for a link between the two as “overwhelming”. Research has repeatedly shown that reporting by media may facilitate suicidal acts among vulnerable individuals. And that the most vulnerable are the young. …

In an Irish context, have a look at the work of Headline, and the Press Council‘s recent discussion document on the topic (pdf).