By Joseph B.A. Marzan
A recent suicide attempt in Iloilo City on Monday resurrected questions on social media on how the media should report on suicide incidents and mental health issues.
Warnings have been raised that suicide cases will rise amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, and social media has been flooded with comments that the mainstream media should be more responsible in reporting suicide incidents.
The World Health Organization (WHO) in 2017 released “Preventing Suicide: A Resource for Media Professionals”, which contain guidelines on how media professionals should report suicides.
The guidelines were the result of WHO’s investigation of 50 imitative suicides, which led the body to consistently draw the same conclusion: that media reporting of suicide can lead to imitative suicidal behaviors.
The guideline outlines 11 “quick references” for media professionals to report on suicides, which include:
– 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; and
– Recognize that media professionals themselves may be affected by stories about suicide.
The WHO also encourages media professionals to consult local resources and health authorities, as well as mental health professionals, on how to go about when reporting on suicides, suicide prevention, and recognizing and managing suicide risks.
FROM A PROFESSIONAL
Clinical psychologist and disaster scientist Dr. Johnrev Guilaran, who also teaches psychology at the University of the Philippines in the Visayas (UPV), told Daily Guardian that media reports on suicide and mental health are often sensationalized.
Guilaran admitted that he had not seen all of the reports on suicide and mental health, but based on what he had seen so far, there is a need for the media to be more sensitive in reporting.
He also warned that the sensationalized media reporting on suicides may cause psychological stress for audiences, and disrespects victims’ dignity.
“Many of these reports are sensationalized. When news is sensationalized, it will attract more viewers. That is very much understandable. But while it may be the case, it is not responsible reporting,” said Guilaran in an interview.
He also cited stories about mental health published in the media, saying that they center more on human interest rather than mental health issues as a public health concern.
He suggested that the media report on the facts regarding mental health conditions, similar as to how they would report on other health conditions.
“The media could interview experts to explain what these mental health conditions are, and how they develop, how they can be treated. The media can look into scientific studies that describe its prevalence. They can report on the facts, just like how they would report on other health conditions,” he said.
Guilaran likewise suggested that reporters should make several considerations before making reports on mental health.
He agreed that media practitioners may look into the WHO’s guidelines, as well as other mental health and scientific organizations which have resources, as well as consulting with mental health professionals.
“I guess when the media reports on these topics, they should ask themselves: Why am I reporting this? Is it just to attract more readers/viewers? Or do I want to have a better impact to society? When your motive is the latter, you would avoid including in the report unnecessary details and those that merely sensationalize or romanticize mental health conditions,” Guilaran said.