From 2000 to 2004, the Annenberg School for Communication's Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania conducted research on whether media coverage of suicides encourages more suicides, disseminated newly developed guidelines for responsible media coverage of suicides and evaluated the guidelines' effectiveness.
More than 6,500 reporters, editors and activists who deal with the media received copies of Reporting on Suicide: Recommendations for the Media. The Annenberg Center created a Web site, hosted by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, that contained the guidelines and other resources for journalists. It is no longer active.
The findings from this project debunk myths about when suicides occur—the timing turns out not to be holiday-heavy, according to RWJF Program Officer Joe Marx. He notes that the findings also show a strong connection with mental illness and substance abuse.
The research found that:
- Articles linking the end-of-the-year holidays to suicide were common, despite factual evidence that suicide is lower at the end of the year.
- There is evidence of a change in reporting practices following the release of the new media guidelines.