To date, we don't have any taboo topics - subjects that may not be freely raised and discussed.

(Sure, we have rules about how the questions are asked and answered, we expect questions to be asked respectfully and we prefer potentially upsetting/Not-Safe-For-Work content to be clearly marked so people can choose for themselves whether to read it.)

However, a recent answer raises the question about whether we should have restrictions on how we report suicide.

The Werther Effect suggests that highly-reported suicides predict an increased suicide rate due to "copycat" suicides.

Many media outlets have codes of conduct to avoid promoting suicide.

I attempted to find evidence that the Werther Effect exists and codes of conduct work. This 2006 report suggests "yes and unclear": Media guidelines on the reporting of suicide

There is strong evidence for the existence of the Werther effect, or the phenomenon of an observer copying suicidal behavior he or she has seen modelled in the media. As a consequence, a number of countries have developed guidelines that promote responsible reporting of suicide. Using nine such guidelines as examples, this paper demonstrates that they tend to have similar content (emphasizing, for example, that suicide should not be glamorized or sensationalized and that explicit descriptions should be avoided, and stressing the importance of providing information about help services), but differ in the way in which they have been developed (e.g., the extent to which media professionals have been involved) and implemented (e.g., whether their "roll-out" has involved a considered dissemination strategy). The paper also reviews the evidence from evaluations of media guidelines, and concludes that it is too limited to determine whether the guidelines have had an impact on the behavior of media professionals or on completed and attempted suicide rates.

I am interested if people think:

  • No, we are better off not limiting subjects by topic, to avoid the appearance of any censorship, or
  • Yes, we should accept that words have effects, and it would be socially responsible to limit how we discuss suicide to avoid encouraging others to attempt suicide.

If Yes, it would be helpful to suggest an existing code-of-conduct we can adopt. Given our nature, it would be ideal if it was approved by appropriate scientific experts and/or had empirical evidence to its efficacy.

Note: I am not proposing a blanket ban on the topic of suicide. I am asking if it is appropriate to limit the manner in which we discuss it.


1 Answer 1


One of the sites you link in the comments gives useful advice. I propose we follow it.

Advice for digital media

1 Sources

Apply extra vigilance when using online sources for a suicide story. Speculation about a death or the circumstances surrounding a person dying can easily be misreported or wrongly repeated as fact. The instantaneous and ‘viral’ circulation of information online makes it all the more important to double check the reliability and trustworthiness of online sources of information.

2 Chat rooms

Take care when using content from chat rooms, pro-suicide websites and other online forums, and try to avoid identifying these sites. This can be damaging to vulnerable people, driving them to these sources, and distressing for bereaved families.

3 Forums

If your site solicits feedback from readers or users in the form of comment threads or their own submissions, try and make sure that the terms of use are clear, including what constitutes inappropriate material. We recommend proactive monitoring and moderating of comments to guard against hosting information that could influence vulnerable people, including discussion of methods.

4 Referencing

Websites and social networking sites may be used by some people to eulogise or memorialise a person who died as a result of suicide. Be careful if referencing such sites, especially where they refer to young people, as it may glamorise a death.

5 Images and videos

Consider the impact on bereaved families and friends before using images from social networking sites to illustrate a story. Do the same before linking to an online video of, or about, the person who has died.

6 Language

When using social networking tools to promote a story, apply the same caution you would if writing a headline; for example, by checking that the language is appropriate.

7 Support

Add links to sources of support, such as Samaritans, whenever possible.

More specifically about language:

Phrases to use

  • A suicide
  • Take one’s own life
  • Person at risk of suicide
  • Die by/death by suicide
  • Suicide attempt
  • A completed suicide

Phrases to avoid

  • Commit suicide
  • Cry for help
  • A ‘successful’ or ‘unsuccessful’ suicide attempt
  • Suicide victim
  • Suicide ‘epidemic’, ‘craze’ or ‘hot spot’
  • Suicide-prone
  • Suicide ‘tourist’
  • Being careful with wording as suggested here cannot hurt, and is more tasteful if nothing else. I think implementing point 7 is good too - although it's a bit of a moderation burden. It should be enough not to make it taboo. Any idea what the reason is to avoid 'commit suicide'?
    – Spork
    Commented Aug 18, 2014 at 9:23
  • @Spork because of the association with "committed {crime}" I assume. Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 6:46
  • @shadur Correct; it is because of the association with committing crimes or sins, according to my suicidologist wife.
    – Tashus
    Commented Jun 10, 2018 at 19:25
  • Why are the 'Phrases to avoid' to be avoided? Suicide tourist makes send, but what's wrong with commit or prone? English not being my first language there might be some cultural difference or something?
    – pinegulf
    Commented Feb 6, 2023 at 10:18

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