Safety

The Messaging “Don’ts”

The Don’ts—Practices to avoid in public communications:

The following are practices to avoid because they can be (1) Unsafe, by increasing risk for vulnerable individuals; or (2) Unhelpful, by reinforcing problematic norms, conveying negative stereotypes or otherwise undermining prevention.

  • Don’t show or describe suicide methods or locations.

    Pictures or detailed descriptions of how or where a person died by suicide can encourage imitation or serve as a “how-to” guide.

  • Don’t include personal details of people who have died by suicide.

    Vulnerable individuals may identify with the personal or situational details of someone who died by suicide, encouraging them to end their own lives.

  • Don’t glorify or romanticize suicide.

    Portraying suicide as a heroic, romantic, or honorable act may encourage vulnerable people to view it more positively or lead them to desire the positive attention garnered by someone who has died by suicide.

  • Don’t portray suicidal behavior as more common than it is or as a typical way of coping with adversity.

    While we don’t want to minimize the magnitude of the suicide problem, we also don’t want to imply that suicidal behavior is what most people do in a given circumstance. The vast majority of people who face adversity, mental illness, and other challengeseven those in high risk groupsdo not die by suicide, but instead find support, treatment, or other ways to cope.

  • Don’t use data or language that suggests suicide is inevitable or unsolvable.

    Describing suicide as an “epidemic,” using terms like “bullycide,” or providing extensive statistics about suicide without solutions or action steps are examples of messaging that can make suicide seem too overwhelming to address. These practices may also contribute to an overall negative narrative about suicide by implying that nothing can be done about it.

  • Don’t oversimplify causes.  

    Suicides result from a complex interplay of factors. Therefore:

    • Avoid attributing suicide to a single cause or circumstance (e.g., job loss, break-up, bullying, high stress, or being a military veteran, gay youth, or Native American). Presenting suicide as an understandable or inevitable response to a difficult situation or membership in a group can create a harmful “social script” that discourages other ways of coping.
    • Avoid portraying suicide as having no cause. Describing suicidal behavior as the inexplicable act of an otherwise healthy or high-achieving person may encourage identification with the person who died and convey that suicide can’t be prevented. It’s also a missed opportunity to educate the public about warning signs and how to respond to them.
  • Don’t reinforce negative stereotypes, myths, or stigma related to mental illnesses or suicidal persons.

    This may shift beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors in the wrong direction.

    Examples:

    • Messages linking particular groups with high rates of suicide or mental illness, especially without examples of effective interventions or stories of recovery, may inadvertently increase negative beliefs or discriminatory behaviors towards that group.
    • Messaging themes such as “breaking the stigma of mental illness” or other language that reiterates the extent to which stigma is a problem may serve to reinforce stigma, rather than countering it.
    • Adjectives like “successful” suicide, “unsuccessful” suicide,” and “failed attempt” inappropriately define a suicide death as a success and a nonfatal attempt as a failure. Terms such as “committed suicide” (associated with crimes), can reinforce stigmatizing attitudes about people who die by suicide.