When it comes to reporting on suicide, words matter.

Media reports of suicide can influence the contagion of suicidal behavior, particularly in vulnerable populations—a phenomenon known as the Werther Effect.

In the three months following the suicide death of actor and comedian Robin Williams in 2014, for example, there were 16% more suicides than anticipated. The greatest increase was in males over 30 who died by asphyxiation—echoing the circumstances of the 63-year old Williams’ death.

In recognition of the potential for harm, the World Health Organization and other advocacy groups have developed recommendations for reporting on suicide. These recommendations include:

• Minimizing the inclusion of harmful information—i.e. the method of death involved

• Avoiding glamorizing or sensationalizing the person who died

• Portraying suicide as a preventable (not inevitable) outcome

• Providing readers with resources for suicide prevention

Adherence to these recommendations (among others) has been shown to reduce suicide rates, decrease the use of highly lethal suicide methods and increase the use of support resources.

Yet until now, there has been no standardized tool for assessing how well these recommendations are being followed.

Learn more.