Stop saying ‘commit suicide,’ say Stephen Fry, Will Young and more
Writer and broadcaster Stephen Fry, Stonewall CEO Ruth Hunt, singer Will Young and author Susie Orbach are among 130 signatories on a letter calling on the UK’s media organisations to improve the way it reports on suicide.
The open letter, which was published on Monday to mark World Suicide Prevention Day, urged journalists to “make a pledge to portray suicide in ways which reflect our modern understanding of this phenomenon.”
It was also signed by London mayor Sadiq Khan, former shadow chancellor Ed Balls, DJ Lauren Laverne, comedian Shappi Khorsandi, and presenter Fearne Cotton.
The letter praises journalists for making “some real advances” in their coverage of “sensitive issues such as race, sex, gender, sexuality, ability, and religion,” but adds that the way suicide is reports remains a “real cause for concern.”
Some 6,000 people in the UK—and 800,000 people annually worldwide—die by suicide each year.
Research suggests that LGBT+ people have a significantly higher suicide rate than heterosexual people.
A 2016 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) young people are almost three times as likely to seriously contemplate suicide—and five times more likely to have attempted suicide—than their straight counterparts.
The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey revealed that one in four trans adults had reported they had attempted suicide.
The letter—also backed by writer Ian Ranking, journalist Hannah Parkinson, and presenter Dermot O’Leary—urged publications to change the language it uses for reporting on suicide.
“Please avoid sensationalist headlines, prominent or repeated photos of the deceased – particularly in cases of a young person’s death or a suicide cluster, or stereotypical quotes from acquaintances or neighbours about the state of mind of the deceased leading up to their death,” the letter reads.
The document, which has also been backed by suicide prevention charities Mind and Samaritans, adds that that journalists using phrases such as “committed suicide” suggests that “suicide is either a sin or a crime,” noting that a person taking their own life has not been a crime in the UK since 1961.
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“This form of words can imply that to take one’s own life is a selfish, cowardly, criminal or irreligious act, rather than the manifestation of extreme mental distress and unbearable pain,” the letter states.
The letter, which was published as part of a new campaign called Talking Suicide, advised journalists to use alternative phrases such as “died by suicide.”
The publication also called on media outlets to include suicide prevention helplines in articles and to stop using “stereotypical quotes” from friends and neighbours about “about the state of mind of the deceased leading up to their death.”
The letter adds: “There is a huge job to be done to educate the public: to tackle taboos; to break down stereotypes; to report and comment on suicide in a responsible manner. We hope that you will play your part. We are not trying to censor media reporting – rather we are striving to encourage safer reporting.”
If you are having suicidal thoughts, suffering from anxiety or depression, or just want to talk, call The Samaritans on 116 123.