When safe is not enough: an exploration of improving guidelines on reporting mental illness and suicide

Keywords: Australia, health reporting, media, mental illness, suicide, mental health, New Zealand


Mental illness, coping, and suicide-related stigma are influenced by social discourse. Legacy, digital and social media create and amplify existing attitudes and contribute to mindsets and behaviour, including suicidality. While internationally there have been guidelines for several decades, the focus has been on ‘safe’ language and word choices that highlight problems. However, these guidelines have not prevented deaths by suicide and have contributed to the prevalence of catastrophising of normal unpleasant emotions and social problems as mental illness. With calls in government reviews and by consumers for greater focus on consumer-centred suicide prevention and the advent of increasing biopsychosocial stressors from COVID-19, consideration of other approaches to and inclusions in media guidelines are timely and prudent. In this article, we explore how a consumer-centred coping approach would augment existing media guidelines to influence community attitudes and behaviours in a way that contributes to health and wellbeing, as well as suicide prevention.


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Author Biographies

Jane Stephens, University of the Sunshine Coast

Dr Jane Stephens has been a newspaper and online journalist for more than 30 years. She is a lecturer in journalism at the University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland and co-ordinates the journalism program. Jane's research interests include regional journalism, journalism ethics and health messaging. She writes a weekly column for a local magazine and is a regular commentator on ABC radio.

Helen M. Stallman, University of the Sunshine Coast

Dr Helen M. Stallman has two decades of experience training students in clinical psychology and providing professional development activities to health professionals. She was previously Professor of Suicide Prevention at the University of the Sunshine Coast and is an adjust there. Helen has more than 78 peer-review academic publications, six book/book chapters, and 10 clinical psychology programs/resources. She is a full member of the Australian Psychological Society, a Fellow of the College of Clinical Psychologists, and an approved clinical supervisor for the College of Clinical Psychologists. Helen is registered with the Psychology Board of Australia, endorsed in clinical psychology, and is an approved Psychology Board of Australia Supervisor.


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How to Cite
Stephens, E. J., & Stallman, H. M. (2024). When safe is not enough: an exploration of improving guidelines on reporting mental illness and suicide. Pacific Journalism Review : Te Koakoa, 30(1and2), 81-95. https://doi.org/10.24135/pjr.v30i1and2.1275