In daily newspapers you almost never see the word suicide. Reporters and editors stray from using the term due to taboo nature of it and harsh criticism that it can create. This unwritten rule of not using the word suicide in headlines or stories has become a frequently debated ethical issue in the world of journalism.
Phrases such as “passed away unexpectedly” and “death was not suspicious” are commonly used in place of the word suicide often leaving people confused on the actual cause of death, which can cause rumors or speculation.
No one enjoys writing about suicide or even hearing the word, but it’s a reality and cannot be avoided. Within the last two years, Castleton State College alone has suffered the loss of two young students due to suicide.
Tampa Bay journalist, Deborah Bowden, was able to cover the suicide of a 10-year-old boy in a skillful and compassionate manner while still getting the facts out about the incident.
The story was straightforward and brief, but faced the taboo notion of mentioning suicide head on showing that it can be done.
Many journalists are faced with covering suicide since it is one of the leading causes of death in today’s society. But with every suicide, journalism ethics are called into question.
The President of the American Society of Newspaper Editors believes that all journalists should have special training to better prepare them to report on tragic situations where their ethics may be questioned and good journalism becomes critical.
Though some may feel that reporting on suicide can be disrespectful to grieving families and could provoke copycat behavior if explained in too much detail, it can also become a big factor in the prevention of future suicide attempts.
“We need to talk about it,” said Eileen Casey, mother of former Castleton student Andrew Casey who took his own life in July of 2010. “It seems to be happening more and more.”
And while Casey said dealing with the loss of her son would have been even more devastating if it were reported on TV or in the news, she thinks it is important for students to learn and read about suicide in the media in hopes of creating awareness and an understanding of the subject.
Journalists may be heavily criticized for writing about suicide, but by doing so they will be fulfilling their obligations to inform the public.
Suicide reporting should not be taboo in the media and can easily be covered in a meaningful and compassionate way with a little extra time and effort.
“We know that suicide is underreported,” said Cory Gould, president of the Vermont Chapter of American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, “and until we talk about it, it will remain a dark secret.”