Suicide coverage: the British way

I’ve encountered no more brutal assignments than those about suicide. Nobody seems to have found a way to entirely reconcile the gap between private grief and public information, and it’s interesting — and a little disturbing — that Britain’s Press Complaints Commission is attempting to restrict coverage of suicide.

The Guardian this week has a report on the first breach of the commission’s code as it pertains to suicide, in which local papers gave a  report deemed too detailed of specifically how a teacher electrocuted himself. The code, noted the Guardian, states that “when reporting suicide, care should be taken to avoid excessive detail about the method used” to minimise the risk of copycat suicides.  Here is the Press Complaints Commission decision, and here is its Code of Practice.

There is sporadic debate about the copycat issue. I have scanned studies suggesting a link between media coverage and copycat suicides — and I also have a strong gut feeling that our industry’s general approach to covering suicide is as convoluted, inconsistent and indefensible as our approach to covering mental health generally. There are exceptions but I’d often describe the media approach to mental health (like the general public attitude) as sweeping it under the rug unless it involves a celebrity, in which case no holds are barred and, as in this tabloid example, World Exclusive: Owen Wilson Attempted Suicide!, the coverage becomes nauseating.

Here’s a web site that seems to have comprehensive information about suicide coverage in some parts of the world.