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Do Australian media apply recommendations when covering a suicide prevention campaign?

Renate Thienel (Everymind, Hunter New England Local Health District, Newcastle, Australia) (School of Psychology, University of Newcastle, Newcastle, Australia)
Marc Bryant (Everymind, Hunter New England Local Health District, Newcastle, Australia)
Gavin Hazel (Everymind, Hunter New England Local Health District, Newcastle, Australia) (School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Newcastle, Newcastle, Australia)
Jaelea Skehan (Everymind, Hunter New England Local Health District, Newcastle, Australia) (School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Newcastle, Newcastle, Australia)
Ross Tynan (Everymind, Hunter New England Local Health District, Newcastle, Australia) (School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Newcastle, Newcastle, Australia)

Journal of Public Mental Health

ISSN: 1746-5729

Article publication date: 31 May 2019

Issue publication date: 18 June 2019

Abstract

Purpose

Media reporting and portrayals of mental illness and suicide can play an important role in shaping and reinforcing community attitudes and perceptions. Depending on the content, a report about suicide can have either a negative (Werther-) or a positive (Papageno-) effect. Evidence-informed recommendations for the reporting of suicide in Australia are provided under the Mindframe initiative. The purpose of this paper is to assess the application of these recommendations in broadcasts associated with one of the largest national campaigns to promote suicide prevention, the R U OK? Day, a yearly campaign of the Australian suicide prevention charity R U OK?

Design/methodology/approach

The sample consisted of 112 (32 TV, 80 radio) Australian broadcasts discussing the R U OK? Day suicide prevention campaign during the month preceding the 2015 campaign and on the national R U OK? Day itself. Broadcasts were coded for medium (TV or radio), content (suicide focus, mental illness focus or both) and consistency with Mindframe recommendations.

Findings

Over 97 per cent of broadcasts used language consistent with Mindframe recommendations. None of the broadcasts used images that negatively portrayed mental illness or suicide; there were no instances of using mental illness to describe a person’s behaviour; and no sensationalizing or glamorising terminology was used in the broadcasts. However, less than 40 per cent of the broadcasts included help-seeking information (e.g. helplines) and some of the broadcasts used negative or outdated terminology (e.g. “commit” suicide; “suffering” from mental illness).

Originality/value

The present study is the first to examine consistency with reporting recommendations around a national suicide prevention campaign (R U OK? Day). The results can steer improvements in current reporting and inform strategies to optimise future reporting.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

Mindframe and R U OK? are in an ongoing partnership, including advisory roles regarding adherence to reporting recommendations and JS is a current member of the R U OK? Conversation Think Tank. Furthermore, R U OK? is a member of the Mindframe communication managers group. Mindframe and R U OK? have also collaborated on the development of a community-based help-seeking guide. If you or anyone you know is thinking about suicide, please call Lifeline (Australia) on 13 11 14 (www.lifeline.org.au), or beyondblue (Australia) on 1300 22 46 36 (www.beyondblue.org.au). For international helplines please visit www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html

Citation

Thienel, R., Bryant, M., Hazel, G., Skehan, J. and Tynan, R. (2019), "Do Australian media apply recommendations when covering a suicide prevention campaign?", Journal of Public Mental Health, Vol. 18 No. 2, pp. 135-147. https://doi.org/10.1108/JPMH-10-2018-0071

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited