Experts share tips on how to responsibly report on mental health and suicide
As part of work on tackling stigma and discrimination in mental health, UnitedGMH organised a media roundtable for journalists to discuss how to report responsibly on mental health and the issue of suicide.
Christine Nguku, of the Media Council of Kenya (MCK)
introduced the session and the speakers. Christine is the Assistant Director, in charge of Training and Curriculum Development at the MCK.
Professor Sir Graham Thornicroft
of King’s College London emphasised social contact is what works in tackling stigma and discrimination. He introduced the report of the Lancet Commission on Ending Stigma and Discrimination in Mental Health and explained the findings of the Commission. The report documented how much impact the media has on people’s mental health and the importance of responsible reporting.
Mark van Ommeren
of the World Health Organisation explained WHO has guidance on reporting on mental health issues particularly suicide. He explained the importance of addressing mental health in a positive way. He said journalists need to be particularly careful in how they report on celebrity suicides. Do not describe the method used; do not include the word in suicide in the headline; do not use photographs, footage or audio recording of suicide; and do not report on the contents of a suicide note. He also noted it was important not to talk about a “successful” suicide.
Joshua Abioseh Duncan
, CEO of the Mental Health Coalition of Sierra Leone, shared his personal mental health experiences. He emphasised how important it is to recognise children and adults have mental health needs that deserve attention and suicide should not be treated as a crime. He encouraged journalists to report responsibly.
Joan van Dyk
, a South African journalist, described reporting of a case in South Africa whereby the moving of people out of an institution was handled very badly and the negative impact of that reporting on the people affected, their families and the mental health policies adopted as a result in the country. She raised the challenges for reporters in catching the attention of the reader. She emphasised the importance of giving people good information on how to protect themselves: explainer articles are very popular. She encouraged patient advocates to guide journalists in what words to use.
, a Kenyan journalist, highlighted the mental health stigma challenges in Kenya including the criminalisation of suicide. She cited her experience of reporting on a child’s suicide and explained why children were suffering mental ill health. Journalists have been personally affected by mental health stories, she said, and have themselves been traumatised in reporting on stories such as accidents. Therefore journalists need mental health support themselves. She added, “numbers don’t lie,” and encouraged the use of data such as that contained in the UnitedGMH report, Bending the Curve, detailing how to reduce cases and deaths of HIV and TB. She ended by detailing the national reforms now taking place in Kenya.
Questions from the audience:
- How best can we report suicide and any support for anyone focused on suicide prevention?
Christine summarised the advice of the different speakers and emphasised the importance of thinking about the impact on the person, their family and community of the story given the stigma associated with mental health.
- What mental health information can journalists direct people to?
Mark shared some infographics from WHO that journalists can include in their articles.
For more information see
- Lancet Commission on Ending Stigma and Discrimination in Mental Health
- World Mental Health Report https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240049338
- WHO Mental Health resources https://www.who.int/health-topics/mental-health
- WHO guidance https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/preventing-suicide-a-resource-for-filmmakers-and-others-working-on-stage-and-screen
- Mental Health Coalition of Sierra Leone https://mentalhealthcoalitionsl.com/
- UnitedGMH Press Note for the Media Roundtable and Media Manifesto with guidelines on mental health reporting https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Kf5pWLlPyjXL2SpfMc7vnE_O_2W5xvua/edit
- Example of Brygette Ngana’s work https://ntvkenya.co.ke/news/triumphing-over-hiv-the-story-of-charles-obonyo-who-has-lived-with-hiv-for-32-years/