By Sandy K. Johnson

The statistics on suicide are sobering.

  • Suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in 2014, responsible for 42,773 deaths.
  • Suicides are up 24 percent since 1999.
  • Suicide among males is about four times higher than among females.
  • Just shy of half of suicides are committed with a gun.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers suicide a public health issue, said Dr. Alex Crosby, branch chief in the Division of Violence Prevention at CDC.

CDC and other federal agencies, with media input, developed guidelines for journalists on reporting suicide – especially prominent suicides such as Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

“We realize those are newsworthy events. But there are vulnerable people who may mimic suicide behavior,” Crosby said, adding that more than 50 studies have found certain types of news coverage can increase copycat behavior, especially among teens and young adults.

The guidelines say the risk of suicide increases when stories explicitly describe the method of death or use graphic headlines or images.

Crosby urged journalists covering suicide to try to correct myths and publish information on where vulnerable people can seek help (such as crisis hotlines) and how to recognize warning signs. He encouraged National Press Foundation fellows to interview experts knowledgeable on the subject of prevention as well as successful community efforts.