treatment resources be included. The guidelines also address issues of language such as the use of terms like “a successful suicide,” and speak to special situations that may arise such as a celebrity death by suicide. Finally, they suggest that media professionals address suicide as an issue in its own right, reporting on stigma, treatments, and trends in suicide rates, rather than only in response to a tragedy (AFSP, 2001). With shifts in focus and inclusion of educational material, the same articles that report on an unfortunate event can become part of universal preventive measures. This echoes other areas in the injury prevention field (Hemenway, 2001). The media now indicate the status of smoke detectors when a fire is reported, for example. Likewise, helmet use is indicated when reporting a bicycle accident.
Currently, many comprehensive suicide prevention programs include components to improve media response to suicide, including the Finland National Program, Maryland (see later in this chapter) and the Washington State Youth Suicide Prevention Program (Eggert et al., 1997), with the state programs often utilizing the nationally formulated guidelines. The Washington program included a media education component that was designed to impact reporting practices by (1) educating media personnel in ways to report youth suicide stories that prevent potential contagion effects and (2) educating select personnel such as crisis line workers, gatekeepers, and school personnel in how to respond to media requests for information and stories related to youth suicide and suicide prevention. It also focused on ensuring that the youth suicide prevention message was “in the news” by providing information to the media and encouraging ongoing and responsible coverage of suicide and suicide prevention.
Despite such efforts to shape discussion of suicide in the media, very little evidence exists to show that initiatives to promote responsible reporting in the media have a direct, significant effect on suicide rates. In Switzerland, implementation of media guidelines did increase responsible reporting of suicides; less sensational and higher quality stories resulted (Michel et al., 2000). But this has not yet been related to changes in suicide rates. An evaluation of media guidelines in Austria showed significant success in reducing suicides. The guidelines in that country were specifically formulated to address concerns that the increase in the number of suicides and suicide attempts on the subway in Vienna was related to the highly publicized and dramatic accounts of the deaths. Subsequent to the release of the guidelines, newspaper reporting of subway suicides decreased greatly and what was reported was much less prominent. The number of subway suicides significantly decreased in the second half of the year after release. In the 4 years following, the overall suicide rate decreased by 20 percent and the rate of subway suicides decreased by 75