Preventing suicide in India by improving media reporting of suicide
Suicide rates in India are among the highest in the world with an estimated suicide death rate of 21 deaths per 100,000 population (cf.
12.2/100,000 in Australia), resulting in over 258,000 suicide deaths annually (cf. 2,800 in Australia) with far-reaching social, emotional and economic consequences. In response to the magnitude of this issue, an evidence-based public health approach to suicide prevention is gaining momentum in India. One of the few successful suicide prevention strategies at the population level is responsible media reporting of suicides. The World Health Organization (WHO) has prescribed guidelines for safe media reporting of suicide. However, implementation of the WHO guidelines has been varied, and anecdotal evidence suggests a high level of negligent media reporting of suicide in India, where an increasingly literate rural population is driving the world’s fastest-growing newspaper market.
The fellowship will support the applicant to undertake pioneering research on media reporting of suicides in India, with direct research costs financed by Society for Mental Health Research and University of Melbourne Early Career Researcher Awards. This research is framed by the following objectives: 1) to assess compliance of newspaper suicide reports against WHO media reporting guidelines in the high suicide state of Tamil Nadu, 2) to identify gaps between the characteristics of suicide deaths in newspaper reports and those in the official suicide statistics, 3) to analyse whether newspaper suicide reports are associated with short-term increases or decreases in suicide deaths in the population, 4) to examine the perspectives and experiences of journalists in relation to suicide reporting, and 5) to develop Indian media guidelines for suicide reporting using the Delphi expert consensus methodology. The rich data that will be generated by this research will be the first of its kind in India, and has the potential to have an enormous impact.
Dr Greg Armstrong
NHMRC Early Career Fellowship