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Mindful Media: Reporting with Compassion

An open letter to Kashmir’s media houses on how to report suicides responsibly!
12:00 AM Jun 06, 2024 IST | ABID RASHID BABA
mindful media  reporting with compassion

Trigger Warning: This article contains references to suicide throughout.


Words work wonders. Words heal. Words hurt. Many believe it is not what you say, it is how you say it. But the truth is what you say is equally important as how you say it. Having completed training on responsible reporting of suicides and the Gatekeeper Training Course for Suicide Prevention at the Centre for Mental Health, Law and Policy, Indian Law Society (ILS), Pune, I have noticed that the coverage of suicides in Kashmir media outlets is alarmingly unethical and insensitive.


It is essential to recognize that suicide is rarely a sudden decision. Research indicates that about 75% of individuals who die by suicide have expressed their suicidal feelings to someone. They often drop hints, indicating their internal struggle. Contrary to popular belief, once suicidal, always suicidal is a myth. Those who die by suicide are not weak; they are distressed individuals in desperate situations.


In 2022, Jammu and Kashmir experienced the highest surge in suicides in India, exacerbated by irresponsible media reporting. A review of local online magazines and portals reveals hastily written, irresponsible headlines, crafted merely to drive web traffic. Interviewing parents, siblings, or other family members and pressuring them to divulge graphic details is not only unethical but also highly unprofessional.


Kashmir media industry has a dark side as well. This new brigade of ‘journalists’ cause immense harm to the reputation of families grieving a loved one lost to suicide. They can be recognized by their own signature tune: “Nazreen-e-Mohtram aap hamare sath baney rahiye” and “Aap dekh sakte hai”, “yeh dekhiye yeh dekhiye”, and “zyada say zyada share”. These noisy citizen journalists must understand that when someone dies by suicide, it's a tragedy for their family. Exploiting the pain of grieving parents and siblings for views is deeply insensitive. Going live on social media is not always appropriate. Draw the line and remember that not everything should be published or broadcast.


Last year in Sopore, I remember some in (famous) fake journalists breaching the privacy of the family asking the mother of the girl, “Acha, pati kya daleel gai, mouji.” Come on, you cannot stoop this low. You are asking someone to relive those terrible moments. Why would you do that?  Do you understand the pain she is enduring? They don’t owe you a byte. Please respect the family's wishes if they choose not to speak to the media.


Neighbours are secondary contacts; avoid interviewing them. Visual content is perceived before text and plays a significant role, so refrain from using triggering stock images. Emphasize that suicides are preventable. As storytellers, you have the power to shape the narrative around suicides. While the fast-paced nature of the news industry may prioritize 'breaking news', it is crucial not to do so at the expense of families and relationships. You have the choice and responsibility to broaden the conversation around suicides. Sensational stories do not contribute to prevention; instead, they exacerbate the pain. Hopeful stories of survivors of abuse and trauma can build resilience among your audience.


According to a study by Dr. Lakshmi Vijayakumar, only about 4% of articles on suicide discuss prevention programs, while 95.9% portray suicides negatively. When reporting on suicides, recognize that your coverage can trigger emotions and increase pressure on vulnerable individuals. Therefore, avoid glamorizing or exaggerating suicides.

Journalists often cause more harm than good due to a lack of training in this sensitive beat. News articles frequently fail to educate the public about suicide prevention; only 2.5% of such articles provide contact information for suicide support services. The primary harm caused by journalists is making the method of suicide public. Sensationalizing news with graphic content is linked to 15% of suicide deaths. Ask yourself: are you truly serving the public and giving a voice to the voiceless? The answer is unequivocally no. How suicides are reported can lead to imitative behaviours, known as the Werther effect.

The Werther effect is named after Goethe’s 1774 novel, "The Sorrows of Young Werther," which led to a series of imitative suicides after its publication. The book, which depicted a young man’s suicide, was banned because readers began emulating the act. Disclosing the method of suicide is highly problematic and can have serious repercussions.

Your reporting can provoke imitative behaviours. Mentioning the location can also be traumatizing for audiences. Such reportage often lacks necessary trigger warnings. Sensitive and sensible reporting is essential, as we do not know the mental state of our audience or how the news might impact their mental health.

This is not censorship; it is about following proper guidelines. Respect the privacy of the deceased. Avoid attention-seeking headlines and the phrase "committed suicide," which implies criminality. Use "died by suicide" instead, as it avoids assigning blame to the individual and acknowledges the complexity of their situation.

Do not focus on the details of the death. Avoid terms like "suicide epidemic" and phrases such as "suicide mission" or "political suicide," which can be triggering. Emphasize that suicides are preventable and promote responsible reporting by adhering to the following guidelines:

  • Use "died by suicide" instead of "committed suicide."
  • Include something positive about the person in the subhead.
  • Provide information about suicide prevention resources.
  • Destigmatize help-seeking behaviour.
  • Never publish the suicide note.
  • Do not describe the method of suicide in detail.
  • Avoid using criminalizing vocabulary such as “the police official said that “we are investigating the matter.”
  • Include helpline numbers and addresses of support services.

Offer coping strategies and narratives of resilience. Reporting on suicides is emotionally demanding. Ensure self-care by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, ample rest, and periodic breaks. Prioritize holistic well-being: physical, emotional, spiritual, and professional.


  1. `Zindagi’, the helpline – 18002701008– has been created by the Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, (IMHANS).
  2. Sukoon’, to access 24x7 services, people can dial the toll-free number 1800-1807159.
  3. IMHANS: Telepsychiatry helpline service: +91 6006613437 (Saturdays 4-7pm). Can check the IMHANS website for more information:
  4. PATHFINDERS Rambagh. Contact: Dr.Kulsum Bhat: 7780806065