What is responsible media representation?
and why should you care?
Within the past few decades, epidemiologists and suicide prevention experts have thoroughly researched the phenomenon of suicide contagion, “a process by which exposure to the suicide or suicidal behavior of one or more persons influences others to commit or attempt suicide.” Sociological, psychological, and public health research have examined the influence of social forces on suicidal behavior, elucidating a link between media reporting practices and suicide rates. The degree of publicity given to a suicide event is directly correlated with the number of subsequent suicides, a relationship that sociologists refer to as “The Werther Effect.” The increase in suicide rates is greater when the stories are prominently featured or high in frequency, with certain styles of reporting creating a greater risk of harm. This discovery led experts in suicide prevention to develop a set of standards for safe reporting and portrayal of suicide, which can be found below:
IMPACT ON YOUTH
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for adolescents. Suicide “clusters”–where one suicide is quickly followed by others in the same community–are unfortunately not uncommon, with adolescent populations being particularly vulnerable. As young people who have experienced such losses firsthand, we are acutely aware of the impact of media coverage in the aftermath of a tragedy: when stories about mental health are written responsibly, journalists and other members of the media can play a big role in helping communities heal and find hope. Unfortunately, a great deal of media coverage of youth suicide deviates from safe reporting standards, putting young people at risk of further harm. We interviewed young people about their experience with media portrayals of mental health and produced a short film, which you can watch here:
ROOM FOR GROWTH
Media suicide reports that focus on recovery and resilience are correlated with a decrease in suicide, such as stories about suicidal individuals who used coping strategies to handle adverse events, or stories that provide mental health resources and hope to readers. This phenomenon, known as “the Papageno Effect,” shows that responsibly written media reports of suicide have the potential to save lives, rather than contribute to further harm. Our primary goal at Youth United is to spark healthier, potentially life-saving conversations about mental illness and suicide that help to change the narrative around mental health.