For as long as local editor Becky Cooper can recall, the Victoria Advocate has reported on suicides in the Crossroads. Cooper has worked in the newsroom for 28 years, so I routinely rely on her institutional memory.
We have always tried to report on the subject as compassionately as possible and follow the "Media Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide" established by mental health experts. Most experts agree reporting on this public health issue is necessary, but encourage media to use as much restraint as possible and to include information about how to get help.
Our newspaper ethics board has considered this sensitive issue multiple times during the past six years. Yet, our board was ready to talk about the topic again last week after some reporters brought up the topic during recent training. As some readers have, a few reporters questioned whether a suicide should be reported on unless it involved a prominent person or occurred in some public way.
Ethics board members maintained the necessity for responsible coverage. Under-reporting presents a distorted view of an important mental health issue and fails to advance the public's understanding. However, board members also suggested a significant shift in our approach: We will withhold the victim's name in most instances.
Board members thought this step might help suicide survivors cope better with the stigma surrounding the act. Of course, as with any rule, we acknowledge there will be exceptions, such as when a suicide involves a prominent person or occurs in some public way or the cause of a death is not immediately clear.
We also plan to try to report the total number of suicides to help make the public aware of the magnitude of the issue. Ideally, we'll be able to report this regularly, as we do in offering the mental health hotline phone number (1-877-723-3422) with our coverage.
Meanwhile, we want to continue to offer in-depth reporting on the topic, such as features editor J.R. Ortega did in profiling the struggles of a suicide survivor and her efforts to start a support group. We hope all of this will help the community come together in a constructive way. Mental health issues touch all of us, so no one should feel alone when confronting them.
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