Have News Reports on Suicide and Attempted Suicide During the COVID-19 Pandemic Adhered to Guidance on Safer Reporting?
Marzano L., Hawley M., Fraser L., Harris-Skillman E., Lainez Y., Hawton K.
Background: Associations between sensational news coverage of suicide and increases in suicidal behavior have been well documented. Amid growing concern over the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on suicide rates, it is especially important that news coverage adheres to recommended standards. Method: We analyzed the quality and content of print and online UK news reports of possible COVID-19-related suicides and suicide attempts in the first 4 months of the pandemic (N = 285). Results: The majority of reports made explicit links between suicidal behavior and the COVID-19 pandemic in the headline (65.5%), largely based on statements by family, friends, or acquaintances of the deceased (60%). The impact of the pandemic on suicidal behavior was most often attributed to feelings of isolation (27.4%), poor mental health (14.7%), and entrapment due to government-imposed restrictions (14.4%). Although rarely of poor overall quality, reporting was biased toward young people, frontline staff, and relatively unusual suicides and, to varying degrees, failed to meet recommended standards (e.g., 41.1% did not signpost readers to sources of support). Limitations: This analysis cannot account for the impact of reporting on suicide. Conclusion: Careful attention must be paid to the quality and content of reports, especially as longer-term consequences of the pandemic develop.