Given the pandemic’s impact on mental health, the media must not self-censor when it comes to covering suicide in Australia

For a long time, suicide chilled newsrooms. The fear was simple: reporting suicide would inspire more. Maybe a celebrity’s death aroused unhelpfully lurid coverage, but usually the fear prevailed.

In the psychological literature, it became known as “the Werther effect”. In newsrooms it was known as copycat suicide. The threat isn’t illusory. Years of research suggest the reception of certain types of reporting, by certain vulnerable populations, can increase localised suicide rates – nearly 250 years after Goethe’s first novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther, was banned in some European countries after a spate of imitative suicides.

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