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About this blog: I am President of Embarcadero Media's East Bay Division and the publisher of the Pleasanton Weekly, Dublin TriValley Views, San Ramon Express and Danville Express. As a 25-plus-year veteran of the media industry, I have experience...  (More)

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'Safe' reporting on suicide

Uploaded: May 29, 2011
It is important that visitors here understand why portions of comments have been removed from a thread about a teen suspected of taking her own life.

Speculating as to the cause of a suicide is unproductive. The following is from the Society for Prevention of Teen Suicide:

"We may never know all the reasons for any suicide, and within this vacuum of complete and accurate information we are often presented with half-facts and speculation. Especially after the suicide of a young person, we tend to feel if we can ferret out the causes, we can protect ourselves and our children from a similar fate. And while it's true that understanding the risk factors and warning signs of suicide can be very helpful, we don't want to make judgments or assumptions about this particular death. So, don't give in to random conversations about the reasons for the death. The most important thing any of us can say is that this young person was not thinking clearly and made a terrible choice, and the cost was his or her life."

The American Association of Suicidology (AAS) which states its goal as "to understand and prevent suicide," gives journalists guidelines on "safe" reporting on suicide because, according to the group and other such organizations, "Research indicates that the way suicide is reported in the media can contribute to additional suicides and suicide attempts."

AAS encourages journalists to:

"Avoid detailed descriptions of the suicide, including specifics of the method and location. Reason: Detailed descriptions increase the risk of a vulnerable individual imitating the act.

Avoid romanticizing someone who has died by suicide. Avoid featuring tributes by friends or relatives. Avoid first-person accounts from adolescents about their suicide attempts. Reason: Positive attention given to someone who has died (or attempted to die) by suicide can lead vulnerable individuals who desire such attention to take their own lives.

Avoid oversimplifying the causes of suicides, murder-suicides, or suicide pacts, and avoid presenting them as inexplicable or unavoidable. Reason: Research shows that more than 90 percent of suicide victims have a diagnosable mental illness and/or substance use disorder. People whose suicide act appears to be triggered by a particular event often have significant underlying mental health problems that may not be readily evident, even to family and friends."

I encourage discussion on the forums about ways to prevent the young people in our community from taking such drastic steps, but please do not focus attention on a particular incident. I say this out of respect for the people directly affected by this tragedy and for all the reasons mentioned above.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free number, 1-800-273-TALK (273-8255), which is available 24/7, can be used anywhere in the United States, and connects the caller to a certified crisis center near where the call is placed. More information can be found on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website.

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