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The dangers of speculation in the reporting of suicide

As a follow up to her first guest blog, Jennifer from Mindframe takes a look at why the media must be careful when speculating about possible suicide incidents.

While we know that excluding graphic detail helps minimise risk to vulnerable people the circumstances around their death doesn’t tell us anything about why a person is vulnerable in the first place. This is why speculation is not advised in the guidelines.

Speculation is the act of assuming, or forming a theory without firm evidence. We know suicide is extremely complex and it is incredibly difficult to clearly associate one single factor being the cause of a suicide death.

The cause of suicidal thoughts or feelings of hopelessness, is more often than not, caused by many different factors. Many areas of someone’s life is likely to be acting as a source of stress, so to say that the last impacting factor of someone’s life was the sole causing factor, is inaccurate.

The way suicidal thoughts impact the mind is different for each person. Speculation around the cause of a death, backed up by memorialising, romanticising or glorifying the issues can appear to someone who is experiencing similar life stresses, that suicide is an option.

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Reporting on suicide incidents responsibly with Mindframe

We spoke with Jennifer from Mindframe, about how the media should be reporting on suicide to ensure it is safe, responsible and accurate.

What are the rules on reporting suicide?

We know through centuries of observation and hundreds of research articles, that discussing suicide can be harmful if too much information is given. This applies not just in news media, but in entertainment media as well.

As any good storyteller will tell you, be it on page, stage or the big screen – there is great skill in being able to paint a picture that invites a reader to imagine the finer details for themselves. Whether a story is to entertain or inform a reader, evidence demonstrates that discussing the loss of life by suicide can be harmful to people who are vulnerable.

Currently there are no set ‘rules’ around this but we do have well-supported guidance, which helps us understand how we can minimise harm and copy-cat behaviour. People who are experiencing thoughts of suicide are at a higher risk of being negatively impacted when there is graphic detail of how someone has taken their own life. Using stigma-free language and information that is void of explicit detail can still tell a story and is a safer way to present the topic of suicide.

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Fears that stop the question ‘are you okay?’

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When it comes to asking the important question 'are you okay?' fear can get in the way.

Fear of the response. Fear of our inexperience on the topic of mental health. Fear of appearing to be a stickybeak.

But these concerns don't recognise the relief many people feel after they hear the question.

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Five tips for responding to someone who isn’t ‘OK’

Five tips for responding to someone who isn’t ‘OK’

It takes courage to ask simply and directly, ‘are you okay?’, if concerned about someone's mental health.

What if they’re actually fine? Will they be offended? And what do you do if they aren’t okay?

These are common concerns people have when it comes to asking a friend, colleague or loved one ‘are you okay?’. So it’s tempting to frame the question in a way that encourages a positive response, ‘you’re okay, aren’t you?’ 

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Self-care after someone discloses suicidal thoughts

Self-care after someone discloses suicidal thoughts

There are few things in the world more frightening than hearing that someone is thinking about suicide.

Even when you know you have done everything possible to support them, it’s natural to feel an unsettling sense of preoccupation and responsibility.

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Busting the myths about suicide

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Suicide is a big issue. While it only accounts for a small percentage of deaths (around 1.9%), more people lose their lives to suicide than to road accidents, industrial accidents, and homicides combined. Around 2800 Australians take their own life each year; an average of almost 8 suicides a day.

While suicide awareness and prevention has come a long way over the past decade, many myths still exist.

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What's the value of RUOK Day?

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On RUOK Day we're encouraged to check in with people around us and reduce feelings of distress or loneliness by asking the simple question ‘are you okay?’.

Simple, right? But many people doubt the benefit of this idea. It's a fair question. Is it just a fad? Does it really do any good? Can asking a question really change a life?

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Self-help if you're feeling suicidal

Self-help if you're feeling suicidal

Feeling suicidal means feeling more pain than you can cope with at the time. But remember, no problem lasts forever.

With help, you can feel better and keep yourself safe. People get through this. People who feel as badly as you feel now. So get help now. You can survive.

There are things you can do to relieve the pain and reduce the desire to end your life.

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Supporting someone having thoughts of suicide

Supporting someone having thoughts of suicide

Are you concerned someone you know is having thoughts of suicide? This can be a very distressing situation, as many people don’t know how to help.

It's common for people to think that talking about suicide increases the risk. This is not the case. This myth can stop important discussions from taking place.

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Busting the myths about grief

Busting the myths about grief

While most people recognise that loss is a normal part of life, the grief that follows is often misunderstood.

To help clear up this confusion, we’ve compiled a list of the common misconceptions held about grief.

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