Covering Suicides on Campus

If there was a homicide on your campus, would you report on it?

Of course you would. A homicide is big news that impacts your campus community. People need to know about it, perhaps even to protect themselves.

Suicide is a much more common form of death than homicide. Suicide also is big news that impacts your campus community. People need to know about it. Some students may need to understand suicide and what leads to it so they can better protect themselves. Yet suicides are rarely reported.

One in 10 college students has made a plan for suicide. There are more than 1,000 suicides on college campuses each year. Yet, whether to report about them is just not clear.

Journalists typically don’t report on suicides because they’re thought of as individual, stigmatized losses that don’t affect the public at large and coverage may further harm loved ones.

Journalists also don’t report on suicides because of what is known as “suicide contagion,” which is a measured increase in suicides following one.

But some people are beginning to question whether this lack of coverage actually creates an ignorance of mental health issues that result in the death of about 35,000 people a year.

I still disagree with reporting on suicides, unless events surrounding the death are newsworthy, like others were harmed or it happened in a public place.

I think you should report a student’s death, but I see someone who commits suicide as a victim of mental health problems. The idea that we should report on suicides to bring awareness to mental health issues seems too much like victim blaming to me. I also don’t like the idea of journalists using an innocent person’s death as a platform. I’m just not comfortable with that, and I think there are other ways to cover mental illness, which certain should be done.

But my view doesn’t have to be your view, and it certainly isn’t the only one.

The most important thing is for you to discuss how suicide and mental health issues should be covered on your campus. Talk about it with your adviser and editors. Think about where you stand on the coverage issue. Be prepared for this type of coverage so you can make informed decisions when you need to.


profKRGDr. Kenna Griffin is an assistant professor of mass communications and director of student publications at Oklahoma City University. She is the author of the Prof KRG blog, which serves as a practical resource for student journalists. She is a journalist, reader, shoe lover, wife, mother of two, and the spoiler of a couple of adorable dogs.