Sunday 3 February 2019

Nerd Church - Responsible Reporting Required: How Media Outlets Are Failing To Follow Suicide Prevention Guidelines

(Warning: this post discusses suicide and self-harm. It also discusses poor reporting of these issues, and the danger of 'copycat' incidents.)

(For helplines, see details at the bottom of this post.)

There's been a lot of buzz in the UK over the last week or two over the prevalence of self-harm imagery on the Internet, and its link to suicide.

Now, there's def. issues with that, but there's also more issues than you'd think with the actual god-damned reporting of this issue.

Mental Health scrabble tiles

The UK's leading suicide prevention charity, The Samaritans, provides Media Guidelines [PDF] for reporting on suicide.

These guidelines contain advice based on academic research on the affects of different types of news coverage.

I check them whenever I'm talking about this issue, and when I make a conscious decision to bend them, as I did when talking about the death of Chester Bennington, I'm very clear about my reasons for this, and exceptionally careful with every single word I use.

Apparently the mainstream news channels don't bother to do the same.

If you're in the UK, you've probably seen at least one of these reports, in which case, let me know what you think of them - but please be careful to avoid mentioning specifics.

I'm not going to link to these reports, because that would just be perpetuating and publicising the poor reporting, but you can believe me or not, whichever you wish.

For what it's worth: I'm not ever going to lie to you.

In the past week I've seen the following breaking of the guidelines, most of which are from the same news agency, though there are a few I've seen in other reports:

Harmful info
  • naming the website where these images can be found
  • detailing which hashtags have these images
  • implication of easy imitation
  • risk of over-identification due to the level of context provided
  • blurred images which are still clear enough to tell what's going on
  • graphic verbal description of images
  • detail of location of suicide (e.g. which room)

  • stating a 'trigger' - this kind of speculation is specifically warned against by the guidelines
  • implying only one 'trigger' with no other factors to suicide
  • focussing on seeming happiness of person, with viewing these images implied as being the only exception to that happiness
  • ignoring the complexity of suicide and self-harm as an issue with many complex, intricate, causes
  • implying direct cause-and-effect from viewing these images

  • dramatic language
  • romanticising language
  • partial reporting of contents of suicide note

Prominence (prominent media coverage can be seen by vulnerable people as a form of fame or glorification)
  • lead story on 10 o'clock news
  • large, repeated, and prominent, pictures of person who has died by suicide

...yeah, the press breaks this many guidelines, and then has the gall to suggest that social media platforms should have a legal duty of care.

Their actions here suggest they're more interested in the story than in helping people.

Don't get me wrong, there are individual situations where the guidelines can and should be broken.

But the breaking of this many guidelines in a way that, in my humble opinion, in many instances is far from justified, is point-blank irresponsible.

A lot of these reporters don't seem to have looked at the guidelines at all.

I've seen the affects of sensationalist reporting of this issue... they really aren't good.

I have another criticism of the way this story has been reported, which doesn't break the guidelines but is still concerning:

There's been a serious conflating of graphic self-harm images, and artwork which is sad, gothic-looking, or downbeat.

Sad music with pictures of rain should never EVER be talked about in the same range as graphic self-harm images.

Pictures of sad people. Sad quotes. Dark art which is - and I emphasise this - NOT GRAPHIC OR GLORIFYING SELF-HARM, does not EVER belong in the same category as 'how-to' pictures and videos.

In fact, these are things that HELP people, y'know?

People with mental health problems need creative outlets, and comparing these graphic images with someone's heartfelt feelings of Depression, which, no, aren't happy, but also AREN'T encouraging harmful behaviour, is...

Well, from where I'm standing, as someone who is a) creative, b) has Depression/Anxiety and c) has been suicidal, placing these images in that category is just cruel.

Maybe, when speaking about mental health problems, you should also hear from people with mental health problems and/or have recovered from mental health problems.

Because some of us even have our own opinions.

Go figure.

(This pi**ed me off, can you tell? #Sarcasm)

Take care of yourself dearest nerdlets! You are awesome and beautiful and worth SO much - even if it doesn't feel like it sometimes.

If you're struggling with ANYTHING emotionally or mentally my dear nerdlets, PLEASE get help.

There are also suicide prevention and/or mental health helplines you can use.

And, if you're in the UK or ROI, you can talk to The Samaritans at any time.

You can follow me on Twitter @CeeDoraReads, on Dora Reads @ BlogLovin, and on Google+. For more ways to support me, check out the Support Me page

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Last updated: 16th Feb 2019


  1. I totally agree with you; it's so hypocritical of these news channels. They are doing more harm than good by publicising the availability of these images.

    1. There are ways they could do it which would minimise harm, but the way their going about it is irresponsible and harmful. You're right, it's hypocritical to be demanding social media do more while failing so badly themselves.

  2. I always see sad images in the headlines of news stories depicting suicide or self-harm. I never really thought of how damaging those images can be. Thanks for bringing this to light, Cee!

    1. No problem - this whole thing has been bugging me every time I see it!

  3. I have seen some truly heinous reporting of suicides in the last year or so - even leaving aside the guidelines, some papers seem to lack the basic decency which would give some considerable to feelings of the family before they write their headlines, which are always as grotesque as can be to try and grab attention. I do think there should be far more regulations around this, and actual consequences for papers who don't comply.

    1. Totally true - I have no idea what things are like worldwide, but I can def. say the UK media needs to get their act in order!

  4. Thank you so much! And yes, so true! <3

  5. Wow, this definitely seems like poor reporting, especially if they're showing images (even blurred) and giving people information on where to view the images. This definitely seems like it could do vast harm.

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    1. On some reports in particular, it's like: 'we can't show you this because it's too graphic, but *shows blurred picture in which you can still make out the shapes and colours* this image shows *goes on to describe the image in case we were in any doubt what those shapes and colours mean*'

      I'm not saying they should follow every guideline to the letter but... this just feels so very, very, irresponsible.

  6. oh thank you for posting this awesome post! It has to be said,. Over and over. This is not something to take lightly. If people only knew... I do hope that no one else knows what it is to deal with this :(

  7. Thanks for sharing Cee Arr about this important topic! Mental health is an important topic to me. Putting aside these basic guidelines on the new channels and outlets without thought about influencing others dealing with suicidal thoughts and the lack of respect for the families is heartbreaking. We need to be reminded and not by blurred images. ❤️❤️


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