On Feb. 14, 2018, 17 students and staff members were killed and 17 others were injured after a shooter opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, becoming the deadliest school shooting in American history. Survivors of the shooting came together to create Never Again MSD, a gun control advocacy group. The group organized the “March For Our Lives” in March 2018.
More than a year after the shooting, Parkland survivor Sydney Aiello took her own life on Sunday, March 17, according to Coral Springs police. Aiello’s best friend, Meadow Pollack, was one of the victims in the 2018 massacre. Aiello’s parents said she suffered from “survivor’s guilt” after the shooting.
On Saturday, March 23, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School sophomore Calvin Desir died by suicide and was found by Coral Springs Police.
On Dec. 14, 2012, a man killed 28 faculty and children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Jeremy Richman, the father of a Sandy Hook victim, took his life on Monday, March 25. Richman quit his job as a neurologist to advocate for prison reform after the Sandy Hook shooting. Richman and his wife, Jennifer, started the Avielle Foundation, created to prevent violence and bullying through brain research and education.
As the stories of these suicide victims make headlines, it is important to remember reporting on suicides must be done respectfully. Journalists need to remember their stories have consequences, whether they are positive or negative. Respectfully-done reporting can bring light to mental health issues and honor the victims. Disrespectful reporting tactics can cast suicide victims in a negative light and can cause contagion.
As reporters, we need to avoid thinking of these people as stories. These incidents can easily happen to one of our family members, friends or even ourselves. Although this industry is cutthroat, we are people and must have empathy in these situations. Reciting graphic descriptions of suicide isn’t going to help our audiences — it will hinder them. Reporters will never know and understand what a person is going through when they are in such a state of mind. Suicide reporting shouldn’t be for the clicks; it should be a way to get our audience help if they are experiencing suicidal ideation.
With the number of guides released for journalists and reporters, it is irresponsible for reporting to continue to be done on suicides in a way that is disrespectful or ill-mannered to the victims or the victims’ family.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention released a “Top 10 Tips for Reporting on Suicide”. The guide clearly outlines dos and don’ts of reporting on suicide. The tips range from word usage to withholding of graphic information.
According to the AFSP guide, reporters should use only “died by suicide” or “took his/her life”. Reporters should not refer to suicide attempts as “successful,” “unsuccessful” or as a “failed attempt.” By referring to suicide as an “epidemic,” “growing problem” or “skyrocketing,” journalists are contributing to the spread of suicidal thoughts. Reports should not include graphic descriptions of suicide because it may trigger suicidal thoughts in the reader. Reporters should also exclude graphic descriptions of how people take their lives. This can lead suicidal readers to find other methods of suicide. Also, reports need to avoid suggesting a person’s suicide was based off an event. Suicide can be based on multiple factors, which are not always visible to reporters.
The guide also advises reporters to offer helpline information for those in crisis. That being said, please do not hesitate to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.
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