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Suicide: ‘What you say matters’

Recently, I have received morning updates from The Durango Herald in my email inbox with links to stories about suicides in our area. How these tragedies are reported, how you say it and what you say matters.

Certain types of coverage can increase the likelihood of contagion (more suicides), while responsible reporting can reduce the risk of additional suicides. I strongly urge the Herald’s editors and reporters to review the published recommendations before they write another news story.

These include The Center for Journalism Ethics (University of Wisconsin), “A Guide to Responsible Reporting on Suicide,” from March 2023; the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s “10 Tips for Reporting on Suicide”; and a collaboration among experts in suicide prevention, public health organizations, schools of journalism, media organizations, journalists and internet safety experts called “Reporting on Suicide.” All are available online.

Johns Hopkins offers a free, online course for journalists about how to report on suicide. The World Health Organization publishes a book with resources for the media (updated 2017), and The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration publishes a list of resources to include in articles about suicide that can supplement local resources (e.g. the Veterans Crisis Line). Most advise not reporting the method or specific location of death.

Some “advise against covering an individual’s suicide, unless it involves a well-known person or unusual circumstances.” Families may choose whether to disclose that their loved one died by suicide in the obituary. Thank you.

Ruth Watkins