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Responsible Reporting of Mental Health and Suicide

Over the last few months, the IMPRESS team have been talking to a wide range of journalists, publishers, charities, NGOs and other stakeholders about the ethics of journalism. We have drawn on their insights to draft our new Standards Code. As the consultation enters its final phase, we talked to the experts at Mind – the mental health charity – and Samaritans – the charity which offers to support to people who are struggling to cope.

Jenni Regan set up the media advisory service for Mind five years ago. She says: “News organisations value their independence so understandably there was some resistance at first but we are having a much bigger conversation now and it’s produced some really valuable insights. Taking part in IMPRESS’s consultation gave us the chance to suggest an important change to the Code which is the ability for a complaint to be made on behalf of a group rather than an individual. It is often the case that stories appear to be discriminatory towards a whole group of people and currently we are powerless when reporting appears in this way.”

Samaritans first developed their media guidelines in 1994 and have been proactive in working closely with the media and regulators to give advice.  Lorna Fraser is the media advisor. She says: “There is generally a willingness to take the issues seriously and most editors and reporters are responsible. When things go wrong it’s generally down to a misunderstanding of the risk to the public of the way particular stories are written. 

“Evidence shows that the biggest risk area is when stories focus on details of suicide methods, particularly lesser-known or novel ways of ending your life. This is why we were particularly interested to take part in IMPRESS’s Standards Code consultation and suggest changes to the use of detail when reporting suicide.”

Mind and Samaritans conduct regular workshops and seminars for newspaper groups up and down the country. Lorna says: “It is often the case that papers simply do not realise that reporting a suicide in their area carries risk and it is always best to refer to guidance.”

As the IMPRESS Code Consultation enters its final phase, we encourage you to take part.  We are developing a code which enables journalists and editors to do their jobs, which is easily understood by the public and which we can enforce through regulation. At the same time as listening seriously to suggestions from Mind, Samaritans and a wide range of other stakeholders, we are also talking to reporters and publishers about their priorities.

Have we got the balance right? Have we missed anything? We would love to hear from you.

The consultation closes at 5pm on Thursday 29th September 2016. Find out more by clicking here.