Reporting on Suicide and Mental Health Issues


Suicide is a serious and preventable public health problem that claims thousands of lives each year, without regard to age, education, social standing, race, or gender. According to the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for all Americans, the second leading cause of death for adults ages 25-34, and the third leading cause of death for youth ages 15-24.

How can journalists cover this challenging and important topic in a sensitive, accurate, and thorough manner?

The Poynter Institute and the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention produced a Specialized Reporting Institute, held in Washington, D.C., in September 2014, to provide journalists with the resources and knowledge to cover this important issue. The workshop was funded by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation and directed by Poynter's vice president of academic programs, Kelly McBride.

This page provides links to important resources from that workshop and additional Web resources for covering mental illness and suicide.

Find an Expert

Robert Bossarte, director, epidemiology program, post-deployment health group, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Email: Robert.Bossarte@va.gov

Colleen Carr, senior policy analyst, National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. Email: CCarr@edc.org

Melissa McCoy, consultant, TEAM Up; trains journalists in reporting on mental health issues. Email: MelissamMcCoy@gmail.com

Lilliya Melnyk, communications coordinator, National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. Email: LMelnyk@edc.org

Jerry Reed, director, Suicide Prevention Resource Center. Email: JReed@edc.org

Dan Reidenberg, executive director, SAVE. Email: DReidenberg@save.org

Caitlin Thompson, deputy director for suicide prevention, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Email: Caitlin.Thompson@va.gov

Twitter Tags to Follow

@Action_Alliance, the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention

@MediaTEAMUp, provides resources to encourage deeper reporting and more accurate depictions of people living with mental health issues

@Melissammccoy, Melissa McCoy, tweeting on fair and accurate mental health coverage

@SAVEvoicesofedu, SAVE's twitter feed

@SPRCtweets, the Suicide Prevention Resource Center

What Others Are Doing

How the news media impacts suicide trends: Research roundup: Harvard University's Shorenstein Center, Journalist's Resource, Feb. 8, 2016

Navy: Store guns of sailors at risk for suicide, Corrine Reilly, The Virginian-Pilot, Nov. 24, 2014

Prudent move to slow down suicide, Corrine Reilly, The Virginian-Pilot, Nov. 23, 2014

Two homeless vets in Va. Beach get key to new life, Gabriella Souza, The Virginian-Pilot, Nov. 12, 2014

The Silent Battle, Ashley Thompson, WAKA Montgomery (Ala.), Nov. 11, 2014

Government, mental health advocates work to prevent suicide among Maine, US veterans, Nok-Noi Ricker, Bangor Daily News, Nov. 9, 2014

‘We need to do everything we can’: In culture shift, Maine National Guard opens up about suicide prevention, Nok-Noi Ricker, Bangor Daily News, Nov. 7, 2014

9 Things to Do or Say When a Loved One Talks About Taking Their Life, Lisa Esposito, U.S. News and World Report, Nov. 7, 2014

UNA ROTC combats mental stresses of military, Anna Grace Usery, The Flor-Ala, Nov. 6, 2014

When Service Members Need Mental Health Help, Lisa Esposito, U.S. News and World Report, Nov. 5, 2014

How the media covers suicide, Candace Madsen, Deseret News, Oct. 5, 2014

Mental health seminar sheds light on suicide, The Flor-Ala, Sept. 18, 2014

12 facts about depression and suicide in America, by Dylan Matthews, Vox, August 12, 2014

Key Resources

Key Web Resources

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: Formed in 1987, this grassroots organization is the national leader in the fight against suicide. It provides programs and materials to raise awareness about suicide prevention and offers support to survivors.

Association of Health Care Journalists, an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing public understanding of health care issues and improving the quality, accuracy and visibility of media coverage of health care issues.

Denied: This piece, from CBS 60 Minutes, discusses insurance denials of mental-health claims. Note that, while the reporter calls suicide an epidemic, it is actually an endemic problem, meaning that rates have stayed the same over time.

National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention is a public-private partnership working to make suicide prevention a national priority.

Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE): A leading nonprofit dedicated to the prevention of suicide.The organization promotes the belief that suicide should no longer be considered a hidden or taboo topic and that through raising awareness and educating the public, it can SAVE lives.

Suicide Prevention Resource Center: The only federally supported resource center devoted to advancing the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention and providing technical assistance, training and materials to suicide prevention practitioners and other professionals serving people at risk for suicide. Check out the top 10 reasons to visit the SPRC website.

TEAM Up, Tools for Entertainment and Media, is a project that brings together mental health experts, entertainment industry professionals and journalists to encourage deeper reporting and more accurate depictions of people living with mental illness. The website features tools and resources for journalists in English and Spanish.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs resources for mental health treatment and information links to a variety of services and resources.

Additional resources can be found on this page, Resources for Covering Veterans' Issues from a previous SRI

Resources from the SRI

The Specialized Reporting Workshop, held in Washington, D.C., in September 2014, produced a wealth of resources, including handouts and PowerPoint presentations. These are linked below:

Prevention and Education Resources

Action Alliance's 10 Steps to reduce suicide and counter stigma

Covering Government and Mental Health highlights challenges in covering mental health and offers tips for coverage

Melissa McCoy of TEAM UP, presentation on talking about mental health

Mental Health Matters, a brief history of mental health issues and treatment

Special Populations: Teens, Baby Boomers, LGBTQ and Seniors, part 1 and part 2, a two-part presentation by Daniel J. Reidenberg, executive director, SAVE; managing director, NCSP; and U.S. representative, IASP

Suicide: What We Know, a presentation by Daniel J. Reidenberg, executive director, SAVE; managing director, NCSP; and U.S. representative, IASP

Writing and Editing Help

A list of story ideas

AP Stylebook Entry on Mental Health

Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide

SPRC's guidelines for Safe Reporting on Suicide

TEAM UP's Social Media Guidelines for Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention

TEAM UP's style guide for reporting on mental health

Training

Webinar Replays

Covering Mental Health Issues and the Recession: Learn how to find people struggling with mental health issues caused or exacerbated by the recession, and tell stories about the effect of the economic crisis on the mental health of individuals, families and communities.

Covering Veterans' Issues: What Happens When Soldiers Come Home: The government “safety net” for veterans has been strained far beyond its capacity. Learn to evaluate how well local and federal programs are meeting the needs of veterans, many of whom struggle with mental health issues and many of whom consider or commit suicide. This Webinar will help you unravel the web of bureaucracies responsible for providing services to veterans, assess whether agencies are delivering on their promises and bring to light their successes and failures.

Self-Directed Courses

Journalism and Trauma: Covering a public health scare like an outbreak of infectious disease pushes journalists into situations where they will have to approach and interview trauma victims or their family members. However, the skills needed to interact with trauma victims do not always come naturally. This course will teach you how traumatic stress affects victims and how to interview trauma victims with compassion and respect.