Commonwealth response to 'The hidden toll: suicide in Australia'

5.1 Media reporting

Page last updated: 2010

Recommendation 20

5.100 The Committee recommends that the Mindframe guidelines and current media practices for the reporting of suicide are reviewed. Research should be undertaken to determine the most appropriate ways to better inform the Australian public about suicide through the media, including mainstream news reporting, as well as through internet and social networking sites.

Response

The Australian Government supports this recommendation in principle, noting that actions to address many aspects of the recommendation are completed.

The Government supports a range of evidence-based, linked activities under the National Mental Health Strategy and the NSPS to encourage responsible, accurate and sensitive media portrayal of suicide and mental illness. This work is collectively known as the Mindframe National Media Initiative, which has been the subject of ongoing review and revision.

Mindframe aims to encouraging responsible, accurate and sensitive portrayals in the media of issues related to mental illness and suicide.

SANE Australia's StigmaWatch project has been funded $670,000 (2009-10 to 2010-2011) to promote appropriate depiction of mental illness and suicide, exposing cases of media stigma to public scrutiny and educating those responsible to improve their practice. It advises the media and the mental health sector, raises awareness of the Mindframe National Media Initiative principles and available resources and provides a mechanism for the community to take action against media reporting that stigmatises mental illness.

The Australian approach, under Mindframe, is considered an international example of best practice in developing and disseminating media guidelines. The initiative has not discouraged media reporting. Rather, as media reporting on suicide has increased, its work has contributed to more responsible reporting with a focus on encouraging help-seeking and minimising harmful messages. This was supported by findings of a 2007 study16, that revealed:
  • News reporting of suicide in 2006/07 (8,363 reports) was much more extensive than compared to 2000/01 (4,813 reports); and

  • The quality of suicide reporting improved overall from 57% to 75%, bringing Australian reporting more in line with best practice evidence and Mindframe resources.
In December 2009, with Australian Government funding, the Hunter Institute of Mental Health commissioned the University of Melbourne to conduct an independent critical review17 of the international research evidence relating to suicide and the news and information media. This review found consistency between the Australian media resources and the review of the evidence; almost 100 international studies looking at the link between media reporting and suicidal behaviour; and concluded with a need for continued caution and careful reporting around reporting suicide deaths due to the risk of copycat behaviour. The review has led to the revision of the current Mindframe resources.

Further, the recent Australian Cost Effectiveness (ACE) study18 of mental health promotion and prevention activities demonstrated that Mindframe is a highly cost effective and efficient investment for the Government.

The Australian Government is considering the utilisation of social networking sites in consultation with Mindframe and SANE Australia. The Government will continue to review the evidence base for media reporting on suicide and suicide prevention.

Footnotes

16 Pirkis, J., Blood, W., Dare, A., Holland, K., Rankin, B., Williamson, M, Burgess, P., Jolley, D., Hogan, N. and Chandler, S. 2008. The Media Monitoring Project: Changes in media reporting of suicide and mental health and illness in Australia 2000–01 to 2006–07. Department of Health and Ageing: Canberra.
17 Pirkis, J., Blood, W. Suicide and the news and information media. A critical review. 2010. Department of Health and Ageing: Canberra
18 Vos T, Carter R, Barendregt J, Mihalopoulos C, Veerman JL, Magnus A, Cobiac L, Bertram MY, Wallace AL, ACE–Prevention Team (2010). Assessing Cost-Effectiveness in Prevention (ACE–Prevention): Final Report. University of Queensland, Brisbane and Deakin University, Melbourne.