Covering Campus Suicide

Suicide remains the third leading cause of death for young people aged 15-24 in the U.S. and the 10th leading cause for all other ages, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, so developing a basic grasp of the topic is essential for working and student journalists. The following resources will help both students and instructors approach the topic in a knowledgeable, if introductory, manner.

Understanding Suicide:

For background on suicide and its causes, these books are readily available in most public or university libraries.

Joiner, Thomas. "Myths about Suicide." Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2010.

Joiner works through some of the preconceptions and misperceptions of what suicide is and whom it affects, debunking and clarifying along the way; good for both instructors and students.

Marcus, Eric. "Why Suicide? Answers to 200 of the most frequently asked questions about suicide, attempted suicide, and assisted suicide." New York: HarperCollins, 1996.

An empathetic, brief and pragmatic overview of what suicide is, what causes it, its history, whom it affects, and a whole host of other questions; good for both instructors and students.

Shneidman, Edwin. "The Suicidal Mind," New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

An overview of suicide that utilizes case studies to break complex ideas down – good for students and instructors, if they have the time to delve into it. It’s the classic, written from the expert’s point of view.

Advice on Covering Suicide:

“Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide.” 2011. A two-year collaboration by 16 organizations involved in suicide prevention, has produced a concise, practical set of guidelines for the online media age (also listed in the student section below).  Their website also provides research citations, warning signs and the promise of further resources to come.

The Australian Government’s Mindframe National Media Initiative to encourage responsible, accurate and sensitive media representation of mental illness and suicide has two websites with guidelines, facts and counsel on covering suicide:

  • “Response Ability for Journalism Education:” (click on “Journalism,” then “Suicide”). The site includes a link to the downloadable 2010 international literature review on the effects of media reporting on suicide rates: Pirkis, Jane and Blood, Warwick. “Suicide and the news and information media: A critical review.” Mindframe National Media Initiative. February, 2010.
  • “Reporting Suicide and Mental Illness: A Resource for Media Professionals” (2004)
  • See also: Skehan, Jaelea, Lynette Sheridan Burns, and Trevor Hazell. “The Response Ability Project: Integrating the Reporting of Suicide and Mental Illness into Journalism Curricula.” Journalism & Mass Communication Educator. Vol. 64, no. 2 (2009): pp. 192-204.

Short preparatory/reference readings for students

Introduction to media coverage, responsibilities and guidelines

Deutschman-Ruiz. “Reporting on Suicide.” Dec. 17, 2003.

“Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide.” 2011.

Facts and figures

New York Times Health Guide to Suicide.

“Suicide in the U.S.: Statistics and Prevention” National Institute of Mental Health.

This curriculum module is a product of Randal Beam's Dart Academic Fellowship, held at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in June, 2010.