3 things you can do to ensure safe messaging when reporting about suicide

Michelle Edwards

I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the “Safe Messaging and Social Media” conference sponsored by the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). I was attending as a representative of Kansas for the Governor's Challenge to Prevent Suicide. It was an excellent opportunity to be amongst other professionals who care about making a difference and changing the narrative surrounding suicide. As I came home and contemplated all that I learned I came away with three main take-aways. I want to share them with you to help aid in your prevention efforts.

  1. The way we talk about suicide is important. Always offer Hope.

    “There is not a great demand for a message of hope we should be demanding a message of hope and recovery. Statistically adding there is hope adding the message ‘there is hope, there is help, it works’ lowered anxiety.” Margaret Hines, Founder and President, The Kevin and Margaret Hines Foundation

    “Changing the narrative from individual to more connected individual. Changing the narrative to 80% hopeful rather than 20%” David Carroll, PhD., Executive Director, Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, Veterans Health Administration US Department of Veterans Affairs

    Always include the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Call 1-800-273-8255

  2. “Having a strategy is one of the best things to enhance safe messaging.” David Carroll

    What is your goal? Who is your audience? What message do you want to convey? How do you want to get the word out? It could be different depending on your audience. You might have a strategy for one audience and a different strategy for another audience. Always offer a call to action. “Everyone can do something to prevent suicide.” Teressa Humphries – Wadsworth, PhD., Associate Project Director, Suicide, Injury, and Violence Prevention Portfolio, Suicide Prevention Resource Center, Education Development Center.

  3. Memorializing can be harmful. Language surrounding our conversations and reporting involving suicide is crucial.

    Again, the way we talk about suicide is important. The August after Robin Williams died had more suicides by hanging than any other August. Less is more. Steer away from reporting details about methods. This can be extremely triggering and harmful for those who deal with suicidality and those who have loved ones who have died by suicide. Refrain from using terms like “committed suicide,” this furthers the negative stigmas, instead used the phrase, “died by suicide.” Keep in mind image are powerful. Sharing images of hope and connectedness rather than sadness and death are important in changing narratives and the conversation surrounding suicide.

We all have an opportunity to create change surrounding the narrative of suicide and suicide prevention. Many times the opportunities do not take much effort, it is just a matter of being mindful and educated