Best practices for “mediatizing” suicide stories

“We would like to sensitize you to the realities of the North”


The Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services' head office in Kuujjuaq. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)

The Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services’ head office in Kuujjuaq. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)

Over the past few days, your newspaper targeted the recent string of suicides that occurred in the community of Kuujjuaq and demonstrated insensitive treatment by sensationalizing the events in the article, “Grieving Nunavik community uses radio to talk about suicide,” published Feb. 4.

We would like to remind you that suicide is an extremely delicate and complex topic that needs to be treated with sensitivity and care when spoken or written about in the news, which, with today’s technology, is available to everyone nearly instantaneously.

Furthermore, we would like to sensitize you to the realities of the North, the fact that there are only 2,300 persons in this community — and everyone is affected in one way or another by the deaths. By naming and showing the pictures of those loved ones, even hinting and leading on the cause, you are putting blame on people and contributing to the fragile state of our youth and their families, who are already very vulnerable and suffering from their loss.

We do understand the interest in the topic and the particular realities of our region, but the treatment of this subject needs to be reconsidered thoroughly, with sensitivity and compassion.

The Association québécoise sur la prévention du suicide has very concise guidelines for media on the best practices that should be applied when mediatizing such events, and we would like to highlight a few key aspects for you:

• Never publish pictures of the deceased; as you can imagine, it is extremely painful for the family and friends to see the face of loved ones when they are grieving and trying to process the pain of their loss. If you were to report on victims of a car accident, you would not publish the pictures of those victims.

• At any given moment you should never make assumptions as to what brought the person to commit this act. There is never one reason. Suicide is a much more complex problem, and reducing it to one reason, such as losing a friend, is adding pressure, hurt and guilt to all of those affected.

• Finally, never mention the method used and always put help-line information at the end of an article.

We would also appreciate it if some changes were made to you online articles, based on these guidelines.

We do value the spirit of each newspaper and do not believe that all publications should have identical formats or philosophies. We are reaching out to you in a situation of crisis to help us, not by avoiding the topic or not discussing it, but my opening a dialogue based on the best practices.

Minnie Grey
Executive Director
Nunavik Regional board of Health and Social Services

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