For the Media

Guide for Journalists

The Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network highly recommends the Guide to Engaging the Media in Suicide Prevention, a joint venture of the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) and the Suicide Prevention Awareness Network (SPAN USA). This 44-page guide offers recommendations for serving as an an effective media spokesperson and how to generate media coverage to create awareness of suicide prevention. The publication describes how to use television, radio, and print media and provides examples of press releases, media advisories, pitch letters, op-eds and more. It also gives tips for identifying appropriate media outlets, creating up-to-date media lists, and tracking your results. TSPN also recommends the new National Recommendations for Depicting Suicide created by the National Action Alliance.

Social Media

Additionally, TSPN wishes to offer Social Media Guidelines for Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention, published by the Entertainment Industries Council. This document offers recommendations for organizations and individuals communicating about mental health and suicide on social media to reduce stigma, increase help- seeking behavior and help prevent suicide.

The Network also offers the following general guidelines as a companion to these materials:

Suicide & Publicity

Help for journalists who report suicidal death
The media can play a powerful role in educating the public about suicide prevention, its causes and warning signs, trends in suicide rates, helping resources, and recent treatment advances. They can also highlight how to prevent suicide and how to help someone who is feeling suicidal.

However, such stories also have the potential to do harm.

These recommendations can help prevent media related “suicide contagion” or “copycat” suicides.

Minimize coverage of suicide and avoid sensationalism.

  • Avoid normalizing, romanticizing or idealizing suicide. Prominent coverage or dramatizing suicide through descriptions or pictures may encourage persons at risk to see suicide as a way of getting attention or retaliation.
  • Avoid details or pictures of the method, location, site or the funeral. Such details may encourage vulnerable individuals to imitate it.
  • Avoid presenting suicide as the inexplicable act of an otherwise promising, healthy or high-achieving person to discourage identification with the victim. Reports of community expression of grief should also be minimized.
  • Using adolescents on TV or in print media to tell stories of their suicide attempts may be harmful and may encourage other vulnerable young people to seek attention in this way.
  • Describe the deceased as having “died by suicide” rather than as “a suicide” or having “committed suicide.” The latter two expressions reduce the person to the mode of death or connote criminal or sinful behavior.


  • Referring to “non-fatal” suicide attempts is preferable to using terms such as “unsuccessful” or “failed” suicide attempts.
  • Referring to a “rise” in suicide rates is usually more accurate than calling such a rise an “epidemic.”
  • Avoid describing a suicide as unexplainable (e.g. “He had everything going for him.”), romanticized (e.g. “We want to be together for all eternity.”) or simplistic (e.g. “Boy commits suicide because he has to wear braces.”).

Include the following “Warning Signs’ and “How to Help” lists in a sidebar:

Warning Signs

  • Threats of suicide or statements revealing a desire to die.
  • Previous suicide attempts or self harm.
  • Depression (crying, changes in sleeping/eating patterns, hopelessness, loss of interest in hobbies/activities).
  • Final arrangements (e.g. giving away prized possessions).
  • Drastic changes in personality or behavior.

How to Help

  • Keep calm and take it seriously. Do not minimize the threat or assume it is a joke or a way of getting attention.
  • Discuss suicide openly and directly.
  • Listen. Show your support and concern.
  • If possible, remove objects such as guns or pills that could be used to inflict self harm.
  • Get professional help.

Recommendations to reduce the contagion risk:

  • Print the story on an inside page whenever possible.
  • Print the story below the fold
  • Avoid the word “suicide” in the headline.
  • Avoid printing a photo of the person who died by suicide.
  • Present alternatives to suicide (e.g. calling a suicide prevention center, obtaining counseling, etc.)
  • When possible, present examples of positive outcomes of people in suicidal crises.
  • List helpful community resources such as the Crisis Intervention Center, Mental Health Association, community mental health centers, etc.

Interviewing Surviving Relatives and Friends:

  • If interviewing grieving family members or friends is necessary, exercise caution. During the period immediately after a death by suicide, those left behind have difficulty understanding what happened: responses may be extreme, problems may be minimized and motives may be complicated.
  • Accounts based upon initial reactions are often unreliable. In the first shocked reaction, friends and family may find a loved one’s death by suicide inexplicable or they may deny that there were warning signs.
  • Some informants may suggest that a particular individual such as a family member, a school, or a health service provider in some way played a role in the victim’s death by suicide. However, there are usually multiple causes for suicide.

These guidelines were developed by the World Health Organization, the Office of the Surgeon General, the Centers for Disease Control, the American Association of Suicidology and others.

Also see “Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide”, a short handout from the National Suicide Prevetion Lifeline summarizing the above points.

Suicide on Video and TV

You are strongly encouraged to think carefully about the messages and audience before showing dramatic depictions of suicide to others.

The guidelines for reporting on suicide included above should be reviewed. These guidelines should also be applied to dramatic depictions of suicide or suicidal behavior.

While many of these programs can be very effective, they may not be appropriate for certain audiences. Children and adolescents, particularly, are very impressionable and extra care must be extended in order to prevent any unintended negative consequences.

The PDF document “Media Guidelines: Portrayals of Suicide”, a publication of the Samaritans UK, is a valuable guide.

The American Association of Suicidology maintains a list of videos recommended for educational purposes. The list can be found here.

For more guidance, use this resource here, from the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma


TSPN periodically sends out press releases promoting agency events and commenting on suicide-related

     Use our logo, attached here!

phenomena in the news. These press releases are often picked up by local newspapers, television stations, and radio stations, helping the Network raise awareness about the problem of suicide in Tennessee and what TSPN is doing to prevent it.

TSPN Phone Applications Press Release (May 2019)

International Wall Open House Press release (May 2019)

Ridgway TSPN ED Receives National Award

TSPN Specialty License Plate 2019 Buy 1 Get 1(April 2019)

TSPN Recognizes loss of Kilzer (March 2019)

TSPN Recognizes Governor’s Support (February 2019)

TSPN Releases Status of Suicide Report 2019

TSPN Announces Farmers Suicide Prevention Task Force (November 2018)

TSPN Announces Veterans Suicide Prevention Task Force (September 2018)

TSPN Announces September 2018 as Suicide Prevention Awareness Month (August 2018)

TSPN Recognizes President’s Signature of “National Hotline Improvement Act of 2018” (August 2018)

TSPN Announces Gubernatorial Candidates Stand on Suicide Prevention (July 2018)

TSPN and Nashville Mayors Office (July 2018)

TSPN Announces Specialty License Plate (June 2018)

TSPN Responds to CDC Report (June 2018)

TSPN Responds to Death of Anthony Bourdain (June 2018)

TSPN Responds to Death of Designer Kate Spade (June 2018)


TSPN Supports the Need for More Resources to Address Tennessee’s Increasing Suicide Rate (April 2018)

TSPN 2018 Status of Suicide and Prevention Act (March 2018)

TSPN Partners with 615-259-2222 (February 1, 2018)

TSPN Release of 2016 Stats (January 2018)

TSPN Responds to Study on Teen Suicide and Social Media (November 16, 2017)

TSPN Responds to the Death of Chester Bennington (July 24, 2017)

TSPN Responds to Blue Whale Challenge (July 20, 2017)

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month (June 26, 2017)

TSPN Celebrates Passage of Tullis Act of 2017 (June 21, 2017)

TSPN Responds to “13 Reasons Why” (May 8, 2017) (with corresponding informational flyer)

TSPN Statement on Situation on Waldron Road (February 27,  2017)

TSPN Statement on Situation on Brainerd Road (February 16, 2017)

TSPN Statement on the Death of Officer Eric Mumaw (February 2, 2017)

TSPN Launches Crisis Support Via Text Message Statewide (November 17, 2016)

Statement on the Death of Robin Williams (August 13, 2014)