Friday, August 31, 2018

Suicide Prevention Week Sept. 9-15; with rates rising, it shouldn't be a taboo topic for rural news media, editor says

Sept. 9-15 is National Suicide Prevention Week, and it's more important than it used to be because suicide rates are increasing. For people under 35, only unintentional injury is a greater cause of death.

Rural communities are stepping up their efforts around suicide prevention and awareness.

Photo provided to West Kentucky Star by
Four Rivers Behavioral Health
The West Kentucky Star reported in April that local officials concerned about the number of people attempting suicide by jumping off bridges put up bright red signs at the foot of several area bridges that say: "You Are Not Alone" and give the number and website for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Samantha Powell, a certified prevention specialist at Four Rivers Behavioral Health’s Regional Prevention Center, told the Star, “It’s amazing how just a little thing like a sign can mean all the difference to someone contemplating suicide. To know there is a call they can make and someone will listen is a very effective prevention tool. I have read research about the success of signs like this from the QPR Institute and the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and we decided that we could take a similar approach.”

Help is available for anyone who is thinking about suicide or knows someone who is considering it. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers free, confidential support and answers calls throughout the day and night at 1-800-273-8255. The Crisis Text Line is also available 24/7 by texting HOME to 741741.

Jim Pumarlo, a former newspaper editor who writes a column for community journalists, writes in his most recent piece that they should consider approaching families of suicide victims for stories about the phenomenon.

"The sensitivity of suicide almost makes the subject taboo in general conversation, and it brings a feeling of guilt or embarrassment to mention in an obituary. That is unfortunate, because suicide truly is an epidemic as the statistics underscore," Pumarlo writes. "Suicides are the kind of news that should be reported if community newspapers truly are to be the recorder of local events – a living history of our home towns. They are necessary if community newspapers are to remain relevant and represent themselves as the source of local information."

Studies show stories about suicide may influence others to attempt it, so it's important to follow some simple guidelines when writing about it.

In its "Preventing Suicide: A Resource for Media Professionals" guide, the World Health Organization notes that suicide imitation behavior resulting from media coverage is often related to how long the suicide is covered, the intensity and repetition of the coverage, and the amount of detail given about the suicide and the individual involved.

The guide offers great detail on the best ways for reporters to write about suicide, but offers these suggestions as a quick reference:

• 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

Other resources for reporting on suicide can be found on the Reporting on Suicide website and the American Foundation For Suicide Prevention. The Association of Health Care Journalists has also put together a tip sheet to help journalist responsibly write about suicide.

Here are American Foundation for Suicide Prevention suggestions on how to write about suicide (click on the image for a larger version):

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