Working across nine councils and with Samaritans to improve media reporting through hosting a high profile suicide prevention event. Council collaborative comprised of the nine councils across Cheshire and Merseyside: Sefton, Knowsley, St Helens, Liverpool, Wirral, Cheshire East, Cheshire West and Chester, Halton and Warrington councils. This case study was done jointly with the National Suicide Prevention Alliance and forms part of our suicide prevention resource.
To support responsible communications around suicide, we held an event on World Suicide Prevention Day 2019 for communications teams, media and interested partners. The event was created to be an opportunity to learn about best practice when it comes to writing about or reporting on suicide, and to hear from those who have been personally affected by suicide. It was also a platform to explain the NO MORE Suicide strategy for the whole of Cheshire & Merseyside and to help local organisations working in the community to better understand how they can help to prevent suicide.
The Directors of Public Health in Cheshire and Merseyside, alongside Public Health England and NHS England put suicide prevention as a key priority for collective action and the NO MORE Suicide Strategy was developed with the aim to have zero suicides in the region.
Through development of the strategy, there was a growing awareness that we struggled to connect with the local media, particularly broadcast media. We identified the need to increase guidance around working with the media for a range of partners who support people after suicide, such as coroners, police, funeral directors and first responders.
Throughout 2019 we worked with Samaritans media advisory team who provided expertise to the Surveillance and Support After Suicide Task Group and gave advice on social media issues. We then asked them to deliver a workshop on media guidelines and why they are important. In our experience, there isn’t a high uptake by the media to such events, so we wanted to develop a well-rounded event for World Suicide Prevention Day 2019 featuring lived experience speakers to attract people to attend.
Initially we had more success in engaging communications people from NHS organisations, clinical commissioning groups, NHS Trusts and some local authorities, but as the event grew nearer, we also had a surge of interest from the wider media.
The event was held at Everton Football Club and was attended by 120 people, with approximately a quarter of attendees being from the media. Samaritans gave a presentation on sensitive reporting of suspected suicide in the media, best practice regarding suicide in communications, and why it is so vital for families, friends and people who might be at risk. A local radio presenter, Mick Coyle, interviewed former professional footballer Clarke Carlisle, who spoke about his experience of depression and attempted suicide, and his wife Carrie talked about how the experience affected their family. Additionally, local organisations who run men's mental health programmes in the community spoke, including Everton in the Community, State of Mind and James' Place.
Feedback from the event was overwhelmingly positive with 89% of attendees saying that they would modify/change their practise as a result of the event. It is too soon to evaluate its impact on suicide coverage in the local media, but we did receive positive coverage of the event on NW BBC news and two local radio stations, which raises awareness of our work.
We also learned a lot about working with the media, for example that there are fewer staff journalists, and much more freelance working across outlets, which impacts who we need to reach to improve reporting. This can inform our work going forward.
We have the advantage here of a Public Health Collaborative working across nine local authorities and partners such as the emergency services and coroners. There is an infrastructure in place that makes it easier to instigate something new.
Working jointly across local authorities allowed us to increase our footprint and work more efficiently. The media doesn’t work to a small scale so utilising our contacts at other local areas made our work more effective.
Our partnership with Samaritans was vital, not just to deliver the event but for ongoing support. They monitor our local media and we receive advice from them monthly on any necessary interventions, and we think it carries more weight coming from Samaritans than it would coming from our department directly.
Including Clarke Carlisle and Mick Coyle, as local celebrities and influencers, and holding the event at a local high-profile location (Everton’s stadium), helped us to appeal to the media both in terms of planning for the day, and gaining potential coverage of the event.
A key barrier is that the way the media works is ever changing. The public sector is not part of that media world and so we need to develop a better understanding of how we work with the media as it evolves.
It can be discouraging when you see an inappropriately written story concerning suicide when an organisation has received training on how to report responsibly. Engaging an organisation in the training won’t necessary reach freelance journalists who write for them. Samaritans assist us in contacting media when this occurs.
We are looking to develop a guide in partnership with Samaritans on what to do when there has been a death in a school or college community, particularly on social media as it is very fast moving. We think that a step by step plan to get positive messages and advice on social media quickly would be hugely beneficial.
We are also looking to hold another event for World Suicide Prevention Day 2020, not necessarily focused on the media. We have a group meeting that brings together first responders, and Samaritans will be doing another workshop with that group.
We will continue to work with Samaritans, providing monitoring on local coverage as well as responsible reporting of deaths by suicide.
Advice for other local areas
- Utilise the media contacts held by organisations you already work with. In our area, Mersey Care Mental Health Trust, for example, has great contacts within the media
- Ensure there is good communication across your own network about the work you are doing
- Involve those with expertise in dealing with the media and the issues involved (in our case this was the Samaritans media advisory team)
- Samaritans Media Advice
- Mick Coyle’s radio show ‘Mental Health Mondays’ is on Radio City every week
- Programme for the event
Pat Nicholl, Suicide Prevention Co-ordinator, Champs Public Health Collaborative