Background: The media have a powerful influence on those at risk of suicide. Evidence linking sensational media reporting with imitative suicidal behavior continues to grow, prompting the widespread development of guidelines for media professionals on the reporting of suicide. While such guidelines have been widely implemented, only a small amount of research has addressed their use and effectiveness.
Aims: To conduct a systematic literature review aimed at critically evaluating the evidence concerning the use and effectiveness of media guidelines for reporting on suicide.
Methods: All research publications that addressed the effectiveness of media guidelines against a variety of outcome measures were examined.
Results: The findings highlight cases in which guideline implementation has successfully mitigated imitative suicides. Significant variability in the effect of guidelines on the quality of suicide reporting was observed between studies, and research suggests journalist awareness, use, and opinion of guidelines is generally low. The critical positive effects of media collaboration and training on reporting are noted.
Conclusions: Overall, the findings of this review suggest that the guidelines can change reporting style and prevent imitative suicide, but that approaches centered on consultation, collaboration, media ownership, and training are likely to achieve the greatest success.