Year: 2020 Source: BMC Public Health. (2020). 20(1), 176. DOI: 10.1186/s12889-020-8211-1 SIEC No: 20200201

Background: Media guidelines on suicide reporting of suicide have two purposes: to prevent further suicides, and to minimise distress to the bereaved, who are themselves at increased risk of suicide. We aimed to describe the subjective experiences of people bereaved by suicide regarding media reporting of the suicide of their friend or relative.

Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional study of staff and students aged 18-40 at 37 United Kingdom higher educational institutions in 2010 to recruit adults who had experienced bereavement by the suicide of a close contact. We analysed free-text responses to a question probing experiences of the press after the suicide, using thematic analysis to identify key themes.

Results: We analysed responses from 140 eligible respondents, and identified 3 main themes: value placed on respecting the privacy or wishes of the bereaved; respect accorded to the deceased; and the role of the press in promoting suicide prevention messages. Many respondents described negative experiences of the press, with sub-themes capturing distressing experiences relating to perceptions of journalists’ intrusive behaviour, failure to consult appropriately with the bereaved, journalists releasing private information, negatively misrepresenting the deceased, and breaching the anonymity of the deceased or bereaved. We identified considerable variation in people’s views over acceptable levels of detail reported in the press, and in some cases objections were in relation to journalists following media guidelines. These divergent views illustrate the tensions between the twin purposes of media guidelines: to prevent further suicides, and to protect the bereaved.

Conclusions: The findings from our British sample provide journalists with personal perspectives from bereaved relatives on the impact of media intrusion, speculation, and misrepresentation, and an insight into disparate views on the nature of information relatives feel comfortable disclosing. These findings suggest a need for journalists’ training to include exposure to such views, to heighten awareness of potentially distressing effects and the nuances of bereaved people’s preferences. This should aim to encourage journalists to consult with bereaved relatives more sensitively, whilst also remaining mindful of media guidelines on the reporting of suicide.