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Reporting celebrity suicide

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Issue: A popular national news outlet published an article featuring graphic images and detailed descriptions following the suicide death of a celebrity. It included specific details about suicide method and location which StigmaWatch feared could lead to imitation by vulnerable members of the community.

Result: StigmaWatch contacted the editorial team and made suggestions for changes in line with the Australian Press Council and Mindframe’s guidelines for safely reporting on mental illness and suicide. We suggested that future stories on celebrity suicides would benefit from canvassing a range of comments from the mental health and suicide prevention sectors, and focusing on the wastefulness of the death instead of the method. The editorial team were keen to apply these changes and thanked us sincerely for our constructive feedback. A related Facebook post promoting the article was also deleted.

Why it mattered: Celebrity suicides are newsworthy but they must be reported or referred to with great care in the media. Coverage of suicide by a celebrity can glamourise and normalise suicide, with research showing it can prompt imitation by vulnerable people. Ideally, media professionals covering a celebrity suicide will focus on the wastefulness of the death, its impact on family and friends and help-seeking options for people who may be at risk, rather than specific details about the method or location of death.

Last updated: 7 March, 2018