Media-Influenced Suicide Contagion
Research has shown that media representations of suicide can influence suicidal behavior on a massive scale, a phenomenon known as media-influenced suicide contagion. Suicide rates tend to increase following media reports of a celebrity death by suicide or other widely covered suicide event, suggesting media coverage can be a contributing factor to suicidal behavior. However, these events also serve as a valuable opportunity for the media to educate the public about reasons and risk factors for suicide and how to get help for those who may be struggling.
Leading experts in the fields of mental health, suicide prevention, and journalism developed the Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide, guidelines based on more than 50 international studies of suicide contagion. Research has found that media professionals can significantly reduce the risk of imitative suicide (also known as ‘copycat deaths’) by providing factual, non-speculative information, avoiding the use of sensational language and graphic detail, and disseminating mental health and suicide prevention resources. TEMPOS was developed to help encourage and monitor adherence to the Recommendations and to assist journalists in quickly applying the Recommendations to specific articles, scripts, and social media posts in real time.
For feedback or questions on TEMPOS contact us here.
How Journalists Use the Guidelines
We encourage media leaders to incorporate the Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide and the TEMPOS tool in their organizations’ stylebooks or alternative best-practices manuals. (The Recommendations are included and linked in The Associated Press Stylebook.) To embed safer suicide reporting in the organizational culture, we further suggest that newsroom leaders, such as standards editors or senior copy editors, be tasked to implement systematic compliance with the guidelines through real-time editing, directive memos, and group discussions.
Below are the ten criteria for the TEMPOS web interactive for scoring your article. Please click on each criteria’s question numbered 1-10 to expand the selection. It will provide 3 definitions constructed for each rating level, as well as their corresponding examples and a rationale section. For the scoring tool on the right hand side, you will find the 10 TEMPOS criteria listed with the option to score from 0-2 as follows:
You can use these selections to score your report as you read along. Once you are finished, click the button to add your scores and see to what extent your report's messaging is helpful or harmful.
|2 (Helpful)||Frames suicide as a preventable mental health outcome; reports that coping skills, support and treatment work for most people (recovery is possible).||"If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, help is available. With proper treatment and support, it is possible to get help for suicidal thoughts and other mental health challenges."|
|1 (Mixed)||Doesn't portray suicide as an escape or inevitable response to hardship, but fails to include that suicide is preventable and that resources are available to those who are struggling; may include a mix of these two portrayals.|
|0 (Harmful)||Explicitly presents or strongly implies that suicide is a common, acceptable, or inevitable response to hardship; frames suicide as a way out or a way of taking control of one's circumstances.||"The young girl was being bullied at school and she felt like she had no other escape but to take her own life.""In an official statement, Avicii's family stated that [Avicee] really struggled with thoughts about Meaning, Life, Happiness. He could not go on any longer. He wanted to find peace."|
|2 (Helpful)||Includes information that is clearly factual in nature, not speculative. May include quotes or objective information from informed sources (e.g. people or organizations with mental health or suicide prevention expertise, and/or people with lived experience).||"Anne Shuchat M.D. is principal director at CDC. She told reporters, we did see increases in younger and older people. Essentially every age group other than those over 45."|
|1 (Mixed)||Does not include speculation/non-factual information, but also fails to provide factual information about suicide/mental health; may include a mix of these two portrayals.|
|0 (Harmful)||Includes information that is clearly speculative (e.g., non-factual) about the causes of / reasons for suicide. Sources of information (e.g. friends / family / professionals) are not factually informed or are inaccurate / inappropriate.||"According to a friend, [Avicii was] an artist who seemed to be having a slow-motion nervous breakdown brought on by the relentless pressures of success and a brutal torturing schedule."Headline: A long-depressed Kate Spade was fixated on Robin William's suicide, sister claims.|
|2 (Helpful)||Uses appropriate/non-stigmatizing language that is more neutral and treats suicide similarly to other causes of death (e.g. died by suicide)||"Anthony Bourdain died by suicide."|
|1 (Mixed)||Uses a mix of inappropriate and appropriate language.|
|0 (Harmful)||Uses inappropriate / stigmatizing language that implies criminality (e.g. committed), judgment, or positive connotations (e.g. successful attempt).||"Anthony Bourdain committed suicide."|
|2 (Helpful)||Reports the death as a suicide but keeps information general and does not mention method.||"Famed fashion designer Kate Spade was found dead in an apparent suicide this past week."|
|1 (Mixed)||Briefly mentions suicide method (e.g. asphyxiation, overdose) but does not include explicit details about the method used or the scene of the death.|
|0 (Harmful)||Describes or depicts, in a detailed manner, the method and/or location of the suicide; ‘sets the scene’ by including information about what was found at the scene of the death, how the person was found, or the type of object used.||"Kate Spade, a fashion designer known for her sleek handbags, was found hanged in the bedroom of her Park Avenue apartment Tuesday in an apparent suicide, law enforcement officials said. The 55-year-old was found by housekeeping at about 10:20 a.m. Her husband and business partner Andy Spade was in the house at the time. The couple’s 13-year-old daughter was at school at the time and officials said a note was found at the scene telling her it was not her fault.""Kate Spade was found hanging from her doorknob with a red scarf."|
|N/A||Article is not about a specific person’s suicide.|
|2 (Helpful)||Does not mention a note or its contents; states that no note was found.||"No note was found."|
|1 (Mixed)||Reports that a note was found but does not include any content from the note.|
|0 (Harmful)||Shares specific content drawn directly from a suicide note.||"Kate Spade left a heartbreaking note to her daughter in which she wrote, Bea – I have always loved you. This is not your fault. Ask Daddy!""Kate Spade left a note to her daughter telling her it wasn’t her fault."|
|N/A||Article is not about a specific person’s suicide.|
|2 (Helpful)||Uses visual content of the person who died from school/work/ family or photo unrelated to suicide.||"Visual content of decedent unrelated to suicide; stock image that is not related to suicide or death."|
|1 (Mixed)||Includes visual content of grieving/sad individuals, memorials, or funerals.|
|0 (Harmful)||Includes any visual content (e.g. photos / videos) of the location or method of death.||"Visual content of the scene or method of death, e.g. train tracks, scene with police tape, bridge, gun, noose, pills."|
|N/A||Absence of visual content|
|2 (Helpful)||Acknowledges (in the body of the article or in a sidebar) the complexity of suicide and describes risk factors (e.g. mental illness, economic hardship, family issues) that give suicide context.||"Robin Williams struggled with depression for many years prior to his death. However, the causes of suicide are complex and often involve multiple factors, such as mental illness, relationship issues, economic hardship, substance use issues, bullying, or a recent loss. You can learn more about risk factors and warning signs at CDC.gov."|
|1 (Mixed)||Does not speculate about reasons for death but does not include information about risk factors.|
|0 (Harmful)||Oversimplifies or speculates on the reason for suicide; simplifies the issue of suicide by directly or indirectly attributing the death to a single reason or saying that it happened ‘without warning’.||"Kate Spade kills herself after husband asks for divorce.""The academic pressure at the school is so intense that it has driven multiple students to take their own lives."|
|2 (Helpful)||Reports on the death using non-sensational facts and language that focuses on the person’s life rather than death (similar to reporting on non-suicide deaths); when referring to suicide rates, references best available data and uses words like ‘increase’ or ‘rise.’||"Anthony Bourdain, celebrity chef, dead at 61""A recent CDC report shows that suicide rates have been rising steadily in the United States."|
|1 (Mixed)||Includes some sensitive language that focuses on the person’s life rather than death, but also includes a few instances of sensational language/details about the death.|
|0 (Harmful)||Includes shocking or provocative language / details about suicide designed to elicit an emotional response; uses sensational language (e.g. ‘epidemic’, ‘skyrocketing’, ‘spike’) when describing suicide rates.||"Devastating suicide cluster strikes local high school.""Avicii: Death by broken glass..." "Suicide rates have skyrocketed in recent years."|
|2 (Helpful)||Does not portray suicide in a positive or glamorous manner; focuses on the life they lived rather than their death, acknowledges positive aspects of their life, as well as their struggles.||"Through the simple act of sharing meals, Bourdain showcased both the extraordinary diversity of cultures and cuisines, yet how much we all have in common – he was open about his mental health challenges and struggles with addiction throughout his life, and often discussed his struggles in writing and on his show, Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. Tragically, Bourdain took his own life on Friday."|
|1 (Mixed)||Includes some content that glamorizes/portrays suicide in a positive light; portrays their life in an idealized or glamorized way without acknowledging struggles.|
|0 (Harmful)||Majority of article content glamorizes suicide; includes several tributes or portrays suicide in a positive manner (e.g. ties suicide to heroism, romance, honor).||"It’s telling that [Bourdain] killed himself in this picturesque, story tale village.""Bourdain’s shocking death by suicide led to an outpouring of grief and support from celebrities around the world."|
|2 (Helpful)||Includes a suicide hotline/crisis number as well as additional resources for mental health care and suicide prevention, for example local mental health resources, suicide prevention organizations, websites.||You can call or text the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, chat 988lifeline.org or you can text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
American Foundation of Suicide Prevention (afsp.org)
American Association of Suicidology (suicidology.org)
National Institute of Mental Health (nimh.nih.gov)
Suicide Prevention Resource Center (sprc.org)
|1 (Mixed)||Includes a suicide hotline/crisis number as well as additional resources for mental health care and suicide prevention, for example local mental health resources, suicide prevention organizations, websites.|
|0 (Harmful)||Does not include any resources.|