Technical Reports

Reporting of Suicide and Trespass Incidents by Online Media in the United States

  • 01
  • Mar
  • 2017
AUTHOR: Federal Railroad Administration
OFFICE: RPD
SUBOFFICE: RPD-34
REPORT NUMBER: DOT/FRA/ORD-17/02
SUBJECT: Trespasser Programs
KEYWORDS: : Railroad, suicide, trespass, media, reporting, suicide contagion, Werther effect
ABSTRACT: : The reporting of a suicide death in the media has the potential to increase imitative suicide attempts for vulnerable individuals who read the article, a phenomenon known as suicide contagion or the “Werther effect.” Organizations around the world have developed recommendations for how to responsibly report on suicide incidents in a way less likely to result in contagion. For this research, 1,173 articles on FRA-reported suicide and trespass incidents were collected and analyzed for content. While media outlets often followed many of the suicide reporting recommendations, none were consistently followed in every article analyzed and a few key recommendations were often never applied. For example, the term “suicide” was often included in the title of articles, details about the location where the suicide took place and the actions preceding impact were often provided, while help-seeking information was only rarely included. In general, railway suicide incidents tended to be reported in a similar way to trespass incidents, rather than as a suicide by another means. The development of railway-specific recommendations could help to encourage responsible reporting practices regarding railway trespass and suicide incidents.

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