Civil Society Groups Charge the Media to be Sensitive and Responsible when Reporting on Suicide

The Guyana Equality Forum and collaborating partners, Global Shapers Community – Georgetown Hub, Prevention of Teenage Suicide (POTS) - Guyana and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), charge the local media to be careful and responsible when reporting in Guyana.

The alarming rise in suicide and attempted suicide has propelled the issue of the state of mental health in Guyana to the forefront of public discourse. The media has been steadfast in its coverage of this issue, and must be commended for keeping the issue prominent in an effort to find solutions. While we recognize that suicide affects us all, and will continue to be a subject of news, media coverage should be done in a manner that is responsible and supports the national effort to curb suicide in Guyana.

The groups have observed that in the reporting of suicide stories, the age, means, identity, suspected reasons and other factors are expressed in detail in reports published by the local media. Added to this, the use of sensational headlines and the fanfare of media broadcast on suicide as “breaking news” provides unintended glorifications of these acts to persons who are already contemplating suicide. Not only is such reporting irresponsible, but it can contribute to the phenomenon known as “Copycat Suicides.” Anecdotal evidence suggests that this may also be happening in Guyana.

The Guyana Foundation, the leading Civil Society Organisation working on Mental health locally, cites overwhelming evidence from over fifty international studies which indicate that media reports about suicide have been associated with an increased rate of suicide and suicide attempts where the reporting: 1) explicitly details the suicide method and location; 2) is prominent, repeated, and uses dramatic/graphic headlines or images, and; 3) sensationalizes or glamorizes the death.

According to Ministry of Public Health’s Caitlin Vieira, Psychologist and Addiction Specialist at the Georgetown Public Hospital, people sometimes do not even know how to complete suicide. However, through media reports showing pictures or clips of the methods used and unnecessary details of the means, or substances and amounts used, persons contemplating suicide are exposed to information which does not help them. Persons struggling with suicidal ideation are oftentimes suffering from depression, which carries a high risk of suicide.

This was supported by CUSO’s Mental Health Researcher, Abdel Fudadin, who posited that the media broadcasts the identities and reasons showing little consideration for the affected families and communities.This places those suffering in the national spotlight during the grieving process and they are often stigmatised and blamed by the public for not doing enough or being the cause. These are people, he said, that are victims of the aftermath of loved ones taking their life and when they suffer terribly the media does more harm than good through insensitive reporting.

It is imperative, in light of the spike in suicide rates, that the media be a partner in combating this ill in our society. The Ministry of Public Health has begun hosting workshops for the media on how to report on suicide in Guyana; we strongly encourage all media houses to participate in these sessions.

The Guyana Equality Forum, Global Shapers Community-Georgetown Hub, POTS - Guyana and SASOD endorse the following guidelines by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for suicide reporting:

 Take the opportunity to educate the public about suicide;
 Avoid language which sensationalizes or normalizes suicide, or presents it as a solutionto problems;
 Avoid prominent placement and undue repetition of stories about suicide;
 Avoid explicit description of the method used in a completed or attempted suicide;
 Avoid providing detailed information about the site of a completed or attempted suicide;
 Word headlines carefully;
 Exercise caution in using photographs or video footage;
 Take particular care in reporting celebrity suicides;
 Show due consideration for people bereaved by suicide;
 Provide information about where to seek help; and
 Recognize that media professionals themselves may be affected by stories about suicide.

The groups believe that the local media can be a strong partner in the fight to prevent suicide and combat mental illness in Guyana by implementing the WHO guidelines on suicide reporting.