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Guidelines will transform suicide reporting in Scotland

This news post is over 9 years old

A new booklet drawn up by NUJ and mental health charities will prove invaluable for journalists covering suicide

A groundbreaking set of guidelines are set to transform how the media in Scotland reports on suicide and issues surrounding it.

Produced with major third sector input, a new booklet gives reporters and editors detailed information on how to approach such cases.

They were put together by representatives of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Scotland, the Scottish Government, Choose Life, anti-stigma campaign See Me and the Samaritans.

Vital research was also carried out by Dr Sallyanne Duncan at Stathclyde University and the guidelines will now be widely distributed among media professionals in Scotland.

The link between violence and mental health tends to be exaggerated on occasion and the use of derogatory language, while reducing, can still be problematic

It is hoped they will vastly improve how suicide is reported across the press, TV and digital media.

NUJ Scotland organiser Paul Holleran said: “We in the media carry an enormous responsibility to deal with certain issues in a sensitive and thoughtful way.

“There has been a vast improvement in how journalists report mental health and deaths by suicide. However, there are still lessons to be learned as certain recent events have shown.

“Public attitudes to mental illness have also improved vastly and nowadays the public are not slow to protest when mental health issues are presented inappropriately in the media or elsewhere.

“The link between violence and mental health tends to be exaggerated on occasion and the use of derogatory language, while reducing, can still be problematic.

“Terms as derogatory as nutter, maniac or schizo would be unthinkable in relation to race or physical disability. This type of media reporting often has negative effects on people with mental health problems.”

Among the subjects covered in the guidelines – which have major backing in the Scottish media industry – are issues to do with terminology and language and the responsible reporting of mental health, with journalists encouraged to contact See Me if they are in any doubt.

A section also deals with how media workers should report on the State Hospital at Carstairs.

On suicide, journalists are warned about the danger of copycat acts and the responsibility of reporters not to describe method or publicise locations.

This was thrown into sharp relief recently with some of the graphic reporting on film star Robin Williams’ death and an instance where the Daily Sport published a top ten list of suicide spots.

Reporters are also given guidelines on approaching bereaved families.

Dr Sallyanne Duncan welcomed the publication of the guidelines, saying: “The reporting of suicide requires extremely sensitive handling. Evidence suggests that when method or means are depicted this can motivate further copycat suicides.

“If you consider all of these things before you begin your story then the likelihood of you inadvertently offending people – and worse, far worse, deepening their distress and hampering recovery – will be reduced.”

For more information or for copies of the guidelines, email [email protected].

Touched by Suicide Scotland: "suicide has no discrimination and neither do we"

Touched by Suicide Scotland representative Rosalind Nicoll spoke about her experiences with suicide and how the media has dealt with it at the launch of the guidelines.

She said: “The group is self help organisation and we support individuals bereaved by the suicide of a close relative or friend. Everyone in our organisation has been touched by suicide.

“We aim to provide a safe, confidential environment where bereaved people can share their experiences, express their feelings which allow them to give and gain support from each other.

“We offer emotional and practical support in a number of ways, including providing a confidential telephone helpline, issuing support information and help by email, arranging group and network meetings and giving out information related to practical issues and problems.

“At the present time we run eight groups in Ayr, Largs, Girvan, Kilbirnie, Kilmarnock, two in Glasgow and Whitburn.

“If you require more information please telephone 01294 274273. If the answer machine comes on, please leave a message and we will get back to you as soon as possible

“Suicide has no discrimination neither do we.”​



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Bob Shields
over 9 years ago
I work with a mental health Charity within Dumfries and Galloway.Are there any future plan`s to run groups within the Dumfries and Galloway area-? Thank you Bob
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