Twitter and social media guidelines for discussing suicide

Tweeting about Suicide/Mental Health Crises 

With the tragic news of fashion designer Alexander McQueen’s reported suicide being broken on Twitter, and the hashtag #AlexanderMcQueen and other similar topics trending, several active tweeters in the mental health world were concerned that whilst there are established media guidelines for reporting of suicide in the print and broadcast media, there are none for social media. Conventional guidelines wouldn’t work because social media isn’t regulated or controlled, but a quick brainstorm came up with several possibilities for using social media to communicate an anti-suicide message alongside the tweets about the actual death. 
 

  1. Use twitter to point out that suicide is a tragedy, and that help is always available. Link to helpline organisations such as The Samaritans, especially if you are ‘breaking’ the story http://bit.ly/aNyqFX
  2. Remind media sources monitoring trends that there are established guidelines for reporting on suicide. http://www.samaritans.org/media-centre/media-guidelines-reporting-suicide
  3. Use hashtags to get your messages into the stream/trending about the incident. Use short key messages about suicide and/or stigma. Things like #suicide, Don’t hide it, Talk about it.
  4. Post links about what to do if you are concerned about someone who might be suicidal, such as http://www.chooselife.net/
  5. Out of respect for the family, don’t suggest that a suicide was result of, or solution to a situation/event.
  6. Don’t discuss the method of suicide.
  7. Re-tweet messages from reliable sources, such as established mental health organisations.
  8. Suicide is not a crime in the UK.  People do not 'commit suicide'; they take their own lives.

The main rule to remember is to act responsibly and with respect.


The Samaritans, the main source of immediate support for people experiencing mental distress say:

Alexander McQueen suicide: media briefing from Samaritans

 

Following media coverage of Alexander McQueen’s suspected suicide and in anticipation of the further coverage we would expect from the tragic death of such a prominent figure, we would appreciate it if you could bear in mind Samaritans’ media guidelines for the reporting of suicide: http://www.samaritans.org/media-centre/media-guidelines-reporting-suicide

A study following the death by suicide of singer Kurt Cobain found that there was not an overall increase in suicide rates in his home town of Seattle, believed to be because reporting differentiated strongly between the brilliance of his life achievements and the wastefulness of his death. It may have also helped that media coverage discussed risk factors and identified sources of help for people experiencing suicidal feelings.  

Young or vulnerable people (those experiencing emotional distress or suicidal feelings) and family, friends and colleagues who have been bereaved by suicide can be particularly affected by the reporting of suicide as it may exacerbate their feelings of distress about their own personal situation.

We would therefore be grateful if you could include details of our emotional support helpline where appropriate: call Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 or email jo@samaritans.org


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Written by Chris O'Sullivan ( @mentalcapital ) and Mark Brown ( @markoneinfour ) updated 07/12/12

Mark Brown is the editor of One in Four magazine, the national lifestyle magazine written by people with mental health difficulties, for people with mental health difficulties.  One year subscriptions cost £10.00GBP.  For more information see www.oneinfourmag.org or visit facebook.com/oneinfourmag


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