Revamping beginning today for NUJ guidelines on the reporting of mental health issues and suicide

GUIDELINES drawn up by the Scotland office of the National Union of Journalists, on the reporting of mental health issues and suicide, are to be revamped, beginning today at a debate being hosted by the University of Strathclyde.

This will be the fifth edition of the guidelines, which have been in operation for the last 20 years.

And NUJ Scottish Organiser, Paul Holleran, is taking part in the conference, which will include Dr Sallyanne Duncan, a lecturer in Journalism in Strathclyde’s School of Humanities, who has led recent research into how the media reports mental health issues and suicide.

In a Strathclyde media release, Duncan is quoted, as saying: “There’s concern about the sensitivity of covering a suicide story and great concern about not doing more harm. This can be a more volatile situation than with other types of death – there’s always the element of why this has happened and why a person has taken their own life.

“I looked at responsible reporting – for example, whether reporting can lead to ‘copycat’ suicide or where a series of suicides might be linked by the media. There have been cases where this has happened when there’s been no evidence that the suicides were linked by anything other than location – making this connection isn’t helpful in the effect it can have on people who are vulnerable or on the local community.

“Digital media and social media have come much more to the fore in recent years. Research shows that the media should be encouraged to seek ways to make a more positive presentation of mental health and to include hyperlinks and contacts which could be helpful to vulnerable people.”

Duncan told “Jackie Newton, of Liverpool John Moores University, and I have been working together on sensitive media reporting [of suicide] for six years and have undertaken 85 interviews with journalists, families and academics. Some of our key findings are: 1. Generally, journalists believe interviewing bereaved relatives is the best way to report the story rather than taking material from social media – none of the journalists we interviewed would avoid doing this;

“2. Confusion over whether to use pictures from social media is a common concern for journalists who report sensitive stories;

“3. Relatives are concerned about unauthorised use of social media material and would prefer to be asked for their consent before publication;

“4. Relatives are concerned that journalists who use social media material could fail to check the accuracy of the information because they have less direct contact with the family; and

“5. Most bereaved relatives we interviewed would prefer to be contacted by journalists than be ignored – they want to be able to tell their story about their loved one.”

The new NUJ guidelines are expected in August.