Media Guidelines

How the media covers suicide and mental health can help to save a life – as well as improve the public’s understanding of mental illness, public policy, crisis resources, and more. Moreover, your work can help to prevent suicide contagion in vulnerable populations. Here are some ways you can be an ally in the cause of suicide prevention, or work with Forefront Suicide Prevention to make an impact.

Working on a story about suicide? Forefront’s website provides information on suicide data, public policy, suicide bereavement support, and more. For further information or interview arrangements, reach out to us at ffront@uw.edu.
Looking for someone to interview? Rely on informed, professional sources. Forefront’s staff, advisory board members and affiliated faculty can provide insights, quotes, information and referrals to additional expertise.

Upon request, we may also be able to help connect you to individuals with lived experience.

Suicide is one of the most preventable causes of death. By displaying help-seeking information and resources in your coverage, you can help encourage readers to utilize resources and seek support – either for themselves or a loved one. This information can be presented as a sidebar, at the bottom of an article, or throughout your coverage:

Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255)

Warning Signs of Suicide

Preventing suicide: a resource for media professionals (Update 2017)

National Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide: developed by suicide prevention experts and journalists to minimize the risk of “copycat” attempts, change public misperceptions and encourage people to seek help. The collaboration’s Online Media recommendations provide additional guidance links for articles, posts, videos, comments and other online content.

Forefront's Tips for Mental Health Reporting provide practical guidance for news and feature coverage of mental illness, treatment and recovery—as well as criminal or violent events involving a person with a mental illness.

Social Media Guidelines for Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention: Produced by the Entertainment Industries Council (EIC)’s TEAM Up project, these guidelines provide a comprehensive roadmap and resources for using social media safely and effectively.

The Carter Center Journalism Resource Guide on Behavioral Health offers simple, clear advice on fair and accurate coverage and word use as well as helpful facts, definitions and resources for reporting on behavioral health, substance use and suicide.

Stigma perpetuates shame and silence, making it harder to seek help. Carefully choosing your words and framing your story helps to avoid stigmatizing someone who has a mental illness or has attempted or died by suicide.

Here are some simple ways to start:

  • Nix the phrase “committed suicide” from your vocabulary. This traditional term has criminal overtones and ignores the fact that, in most cases, suicide is the tragic outcome of mental illness and the desire to escape unbearable pain. Make a difference by using these terms instead: died by suicide, completed suicide, took his/her own life.
  • Describe people (in headlines too!) as having mental illnesses, not as “the mentally ill.” A Phrase to Renounce for 2014: ‘The Mentally Ill’ by journalist Carey Goldberg explains why. See Forefront’s Tips for Mental Health Reporting and the AP Stylebook changes for more examples and information on people-first language.
  • Tell stories of hope and recovery in the lives of people who received treatment for their mental illnesses and thoughts of suicide.
  • Avoid oversimplified explanations for a death by suicide, and sentimental descriptions of the departed.