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First suicide prevention minister

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16th October 2018

Suicide Prevention Minister urged to clamp down on "irresponsible" portrayal of suicide in media

First suicide prevention minister

Press Release issued on behalf of Care Not Killing

RELEASE DATE: Tuesday 16th October 2018


Suicide Prevention Minister urged to clamp down on "irresponsible" portrayal of suicide in media

Jackie Doyle-Price the UK's first suicide prevention minister should clamp down on the "irresponsible" portrayal of suicide in the media and encourage programme makers to discuss end of life care instead, says Care Not Killing.

The announcement of the ministerial appointment was made last week by Secretary of State Matt Hancock at a Government sponsored mental health summit, attended by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to coincide with World Mental Health Day.

The Campaign group, which represents around 40 organisations, highlights the output from the BBC as an example of the one sided reporting around the debate on assisted suicide.

Dr Peter Saunders, the Campaign Director of Care Not Killing commented:

'In the last decade the Corporation has screened dozens of docudramas, documentaries and news items that portray assisted suicide in a positive light and do not give the opposite perspective, or equal weight to those who oppose facilitating suicide. Coverage by the BBC was even cited in at least two cases as contributing to a real suicide[1]or leading to the contemplation of suicide[2] as a solution.'

Dr Saunders continued:

'Research in the UK, USA and other countries strongly indicates that media representation can and does lead to copycat behaviour, known as the Werther Effect or suicide contagion. Those most affected appear to be young people and the risk seems to be greater when there is a feeling of identification, such as in the case of a celebrity death by suicide, or the death by suicide of an attractive fictional character. This is why both the WHO and Samaritans urge caution in how suicides are reported and or portrayed in the media.'

Indeed the BBC issued its own editorial guidelines on portrayal of suicide, which are clear:[3]

'Suicide, attempted suicide and self-harm should be portrayed with great sensitivity, whether in drama or in factual programmes. Factual reporting and fictional portrayal of suicide, attempted suicide and self-harm have the potential to make such actions appear possible, and even appropriate, to the vulnerable.'

This mirrors advice from the WHO, which in a document entitled 'Preventing Suicide: A Resource for Media Professionals'. It says:[4]

'Over 50 investigations into imitative suicides have been conducted. Systematic reviews of these studies have consistently drawn the same conclusion: media reporting of suicide can lead to imitative suicidal behaviours. These reviews have also observed that imitation is more evident under some circumstances than others.'

It also makes the point that 'the degree of publicity given to a suicide story is directly correlated with the number of subsequent suicides It summarises its conclusions as follows:

  • Don't publish photographs or suicide notes.
  • Don't report specific details of the method used.
  • Don't give simplistic reasons.
  • Don't glorify or sensationalize suicide.
  • Don't use religious or cultural stereotypes.

The WHO guidance gives a set of guidelines to media professionals as listed below:

  • Take the opportunity to educate the public about suicide
  • Avoid language which sensationalizes or normalizes suicide, or presents it as a solution to problems
  • Avoid prominent placement and undue repetition of stories about suicide
  • Avoid explicit description of the method used in a completed or attempted suicide
  • Avoid providing detailed information about the site of a completed or attempted suicide
  • Word headlines carefully
  • Exercise caution in using photographs or video footage
  • Take particular care in reporting celebrity suicides
  • Show due consideration for people bereaved by suicide
  • Provide information about where to seek help
  • Recognize that media professionals themselves may be affected by stories about suicide

The handbook, What's the Story?: Reporting Mental Health and Suicide,[5] also gives practical advice to the media on covering suicide, mental illness and violent crime by psychiatric patients.

'Stories about individual suicides should be presented with care. How you choose to report on it can potentially save lives. The terrible truth is that people who are already feeling suicidal sometimes take their own lives after seeing media coverage of other suicides.'

Dr Saunders continued:

'As the Royal College of Physicians said, depression is well known to have at its core hopelessness, suicidality andanhedonia, all of which put patients at particular risk of seeing their lives as no longer of value, quality or worth. This is why we urge Mrs Doyle-Price to engage with programme makers and media outlets, reminding them that irresponsible portrayal can cost lives.

'This is why Parliamentarians acknowledge that there is no safe system of assisted suicide and euthanasia anywhere in the world, that changing the law would send out a negative message about those who are terminally ill, disabled or old and would pressure some into ending their lives because they feel that they have become either a financial or care burden. As 11 times medal winning Paralympian Tanni Grey-Thompson commented: "Legalising assisted suicide will only serve to reinforce deep seated prejudices that the lives of sick and disabled people aren't worth as much as other people's."

'As we have seen in both Oregon and Washington, the majority of those opting to end their lives cite the fear of becoming either a care or financial burden on their families and carers as a reason to kill themselves.'

He concluded:

'I hope Mrs Doyle-Price will take up this issue. Who knows perhaps one day the BBC might even screen a celebrity backed documentary about palliative care and challenging those who want to remove universal protections from the disabled people.'

For media inquiries, please contact Alistair Thompson on 07970 162225.


Notes for Editors

Care Not Killing is a UK-based alliance bringing together around 50 organisations - human rights and disability rights organisations, health care and palliative care groups, faith-based organisations groups - and thousands of concerned individuals.

We have three key aims:

  • to promote more and better palliative care;
  • to ensure that existing laws against euthanasia and assisted suicide are not weakened or repealed during the lifetime of the current Parliament;
  • to inform public opinion further against any weakening of the law.






© Image copyright of UK Parliament and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons License 3.0

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