The Crucial Role of Journalism in Suicide Awareness

The need for conscientious and factual reporting of student suicides is imperative; the inclusion of expert advice can make this easier.

By Austin Blum and Katie Washington

Suicide is a major public health concern and the second-leading cause of death among young adults in the U.S. Responsible and accurate media coverage of suicide can reduce the risk of vulnerable individuals attempting or completing suicide. Various groups, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have created guidelines for reporting on suicide that protect readers while preserving the independence and integrity of media professionals.

We commend The Chicago Maroon for being a resource to the University of Chicago community during a time of grief and loss. As two psychiatrists who care for many members of this community, we would like to draw attention to an important but often unacknowledged fact: Beneath the surface, people who die by suicide experience psychological suffering that is easy to overlook. Up to 90 percent of people who die by suicide have a mental health condition, though many do not receive adequate treatment due to stigma, shame, and barriers to access.

Media can play an important role in suicide prevention by providing mental health education and encouraging those who are at risk to seek help. When reporting deaths by suicide, journalists should also discuss risk factors for suicide, research about suicide prevention, and options for treatment of mental illness. We also recommend requesting input from suicide prevention experts and offering hope to readers who may be troubled by reading the details of deaths by suicide.  

As a community, this is a time when we should seriously consider the warning signs of suicide, including thoughts about death and dying, feelings of hopelessness, feeling trapped, frequent substance use, and extreme mood swings. If you are concerned about someone you know, do not leave them alone. Remove any potentially harmful objects from their possession. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273–TALK (8255). Call 911, go to the emergency department, or seek help from a medical or mental health professional. You can also text HOME to 741741 to get in touch with a crisis counselor.

The University’s Student Counseling Service is located at 5555 South Woodlawn Avenue. Students may schedule appointments by calling (773) 702–9800 or walking in during business hours (Mondays through Fridays, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.). The University’s Dean-on-Call can be reached at (773) 834–4357.

We hope that The Maroon will serve as a supportive platform during times of tragedy by helping to provide education and hope to those who may be suffering, or know someone who is.

Austin Blum, M.D. ’18, J.D.

Katie Washington Cole, M.D., Ph.D.

The authors are resident physicians in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience at the University of Chicago.