Research has shown that certain types of reporting of suicide can lead to vulnerable people imitating the detail they pick up in the media, resulting in further loss of life due to suicide. As a result, the PHA has engaged the Samaritans to work with the media on this issue. The Samaritans have extensive experience in the responsible reporting of this often difficult and sensitive issue.
This work is part of a range of actions to reduce Northern Ireland’s suicide rate – currently the highest in the UK and twice that of England. The Samaritans have provided support to newspapers and broadcasters since 1995 and led on the publication Media Guidelines for reporting suicide in partnership with the Irish Association of Suicidology.
The programme is due to begin on Monday 22 November 2010. The first action will be an introductory workshop with the Families Voices Forum in Cookstown on Saturday 20 November, celebrating the 12th annual National Survivors of Suicide Day. This unique event is a day of healing for those who have lost someone to suicide.
Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety Michael McGimpsey said: “Suicide is a matter of huge public concern and behind every death by suicide there is a personal story of life lost to family, friends and communities.
“Reporting needs to take account of the feelings of those bereaved and the potential impact it may have on the local community, particularly young people.
“My Department invests £6.7 million annually in suicide prevention. This funding pays for Lifeline (crisis helpline) and for implementation of the ‘Protect Life’ Strategy. It supports awareness raising, local research, training, and community-led efforts to tackle suicide at local level and to support bereaved families.
“I will continue to make it a priority to tackle suicide in our society and will maintain support to those organisations committed to help prevent suicide in Northern Ireland.”
Madeline Heaney from the Public Health Agency said: “The PHA welcomes working in partnership with the Samaritans on this important issue. Any death as a result of a suicide is a tragedy for the family and community and we have a number of initiatives and services in place across Northern Ireland to support communities in trying to address this issue. This includes the Lifeline service, support for those who self-harm, bereavement support for families, programmes for young men and community grants programmes. This new service will add another strand to this ongoing work.”
Samaritans Chief Executive Catherine Johnstone said: “We are delighted to be working with the Public Health Agency, contributing to their work in reducing the number of suicides in Northern Ireland. While it is important that the issue of suicide is discussed in the media to encourage vulnerable and distressed people to seek help at an earlier stage, research demonstrates a strong link between media reporting of suicide and ‘copycat’ deaths, particularly when the method of suicide is covered in detail. We welcome working with the PHA and the Northern Irish media to promote reporting that protects the lives of vulnerable people.”
Also welcoming the programme of work, Mary Creaney, spokesperson for Families Voices Forum, a suicide awareness group, said: “The Families Voices Forum welcome this partnership. It is necessary for adequate reporting of suicide for all journalists, especially those recently trained within this medium to be aware of the guidelines and more importantly to put them into practice on every occasion they have to write or report on a suicidal death.”
She added: “Inadequate, insensitive or inappropriate use of language when reporting suicides affect both vulnerable people and the families grieving following the death of a loved one. This is why it is important that we continue to work with the media to help reduce the negative impact on society. Meanwhile, adhering to the media guidelines will help with suicide prevention.”
Mary continued: “Appropriate coverage of suicide can also direct vulnerable people to sources of help and educate audiences or readers about the likely causes of suicide, its warning signs and trends in suicide rates.”
Notes to the editor
1. Lifeline is a free and confidential 24 hour helpline for those in distress or despair. Tel: 0808 808 8000.
2. Please abide by Samaritans media guidelines on suicide: http://www.samaritans.org/pdf/IrishMediaGuidelines2009.pdf.
3. The PHA has invested £50,000 to commission this research.
4. The development of the Families Voices Forum is supported by the Public Health Agency.
5. The National Survivors of Suicide Day is hosted by Rural Support and is at CAFRE, Loughry Campus, Cookstown, Co. Tyrone from 10.30am to 3.30pm. It is a day for survivors of suicide to connect with others who have survived the tragedy of suicide loss and is about information, empowerment and to let healing take place.
• Mary Creaney, spokesperson for Families Voices Forum, is available for interview. Please contact the PHA press office to arrange on 9031 1611.
• Samaritans Head of Communications Nicola Peckett, is available for interview, please call the press office on 020 8394 8377 or email [email protected]