Canadian news media coverage of suicide during the COVID-19 pandemic

Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2023 Jan 25;1-12. doi: 10.1007/s00127-023-02430-2. Online ahead of print.


Purpose: The COVID-19 pandemic led to concerns about increases in suicidal behaviour. Research indicates that certain types of media coverage of suicide may help reduce suicidality (the Papageno effect), while other types may increase suicidality (the Werther effect). This study aimed to examine the tone and content of Canadian news articles about suicide during the first year of the pandemic.

Methods: Articles about suicide from Canadian news sources were collected and coded for adherence to responsible reporting of suicide guidelines. Articles which directly discussed suicidal behaviour in the COVID-19 context were identified and compared to other suicide articles in the same period. Lastly, a thematic analysis was conducted on the sub-sample of articles discussing suicide in the COVID-19 context.

Results: The sub-set of articles about suicide in the COVID-19 context (n = 103) contained significantly more putatively helpful content compared to non-COVID-19 articles (n = 457), such as including help information (56.3% Vs 23.6%), quoting an expert (68.0% Vs 16.8%) and educating about suicide (73.8% Vs 24.9%). This lower adherence among non-COVID-19 articles is concerning as they comprised over 80% of the sample. On the plus side, fewer than 10% of all articles provided monocausal, glamourized or sensational accounts of suicide. Qualitative analysis revealed the following three themes: (i) describing the epidemiology of suicidal behaviour; (ii) discussing self and communal care; and (iii) bringing attention to gaps in mental health care.

Conclusion: Media articles about suicide during the first year of the pandemic showed partial adherence to responsible reporting of suicide guidelines, with room for improvement.

Keywords: COVID-19; Canada; Media; Mixed-methods; Newspaper; Suicide.