Mark Sinyor, Daniella Ekstein, Nivetha Prabaharan, Lisa Fiksenbaum, Caroline Vandermeer, Ayal Schaffer, Jane Pirkis, Marnin J. Heisel, Benjamin I. Goldstein, Donald A. Redelmeier, Paul Taylor, Thomas Niederkrotenthaler

Changes in Media Reporting Quality and Suicides Following National Media Engagement on Responsible Reporting of Suicide in Canada

  • Psychiatry and Mental health

Objective Responsible media reporting is an accepted strategy for preventing suicide. In 2015, suicide prevention experts launched a media engagement initiative aimed at improving suicide-related reporting in Canada; its impact on media reporting quality and suicide deaths is unknown. Method This pre–post observational study examined changes in reporting characteristics in a random sample of suicide-related articles from major publications in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) media market. Articles ( n = 900) included 450 from the 6-year periods prior to and after the initiative began. We also examined changes in suicide counts in the GTA between these epochs. We used chi-square tests to analyse changes in reporting characteristics and time-series analyses to identify changes in suicide counts. Secondary outcomes focused on guidelines developed by media professionals in Canada and how they may have influenced media reporting quality as well as on the overarching narrative of media articles during the most recent years of available data. Results Across-the-board improvement was observed in suicide-related reporting with substantial reductions in many elements of putatively harmful content and substantial increases in all aspects of putatively protective content. However, overarching article narratives remained potentially harmful with 55.2% of articles telling the story of someone's death and 20.8% presenting an other negative message. Only 3.6% of articles told a story of survival. After controlling for potential confounders, a nonsignificant numeric decrease in suicide counts was identified after initiative implementation (ω = −5.41, SE  =  3.43, t  =  1.58, p  =  0.12). Conclusions We found evidence that a strategy to engage media in Canada changed the content of reporting, but there was only a nonsignificant trend towards fewer suicides. A more fundamental change in media narratives to focus on survival rather than death appears warranted.

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