New Telegraph

When journalists learnt how to report suicide, trauma more humanely

Nigerian media professionals were recently equipped with new skill sets on how to report issues relating to trauma, and suicide without glamorising it, causing others to want to copycat or revictimising survivors. The unique workshop and training was held at Msquare Hotel, Ikeja GRA, Lagos, recently. It was a unique training in that not many journalists have been beneficiaries of such an exercise and workshop. The workshop and training were organised by Idimma Health Initiative and Child Solidarity Group and the US Consulate General, Lagos State, supported it. According to experts, approximately 700,000 people commit suicide annually. The Founder of Idimma Health Initiative, Aisha Bubah, said the training was also aimed at promoting wholesome wellness.

Mental health

According to her, everyone has mental health, so saying that people have mental health is not an insult as most people used to think. Mental illness is a negative of mental health, she stated. Facilitating the session on ‘Understanding Mental Health’, Bubah explained that there is a difference between mental health and mental disorders. She said that mental health is the wellbeing in which the individual realises his or her abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life and can work productively and fruitfully. She added: “Mental illness is recurring, and it can affect someone’s functioning and it has depth. Some people have a history of mental illness in their families and medication can regulate mental illness, and life stresses can trigger it. Some drugs affect and can cause depression. When people suffer depression and anxieties, they cannot be productive.” She added: “Depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide, affecting more than 264 million people. The global prevalence of anxiety disorders is estimated to be around 3.6% and 30% of Nigerians suffer mental illness, while 22% of Nigerians suffer from chronic depression and 1in 5 Nigerian youth have mental health problems. “Suicide and substance misuse are on the increase. Only about 4% of the country’s health budget goes to mental health. Nine out of 10 persons with mental disorders in Nigeria do not receive any services. Over 30% of Nigerians suffer from depression according to WHO and only about 10% have access to treatment.”


A psychologist, Ms Chineze Okafor, facilitating the session on ‘Introduction to Suicide’, said that warning signs of suicide include verbal and thought clues, preoccupation with death, expressing a desire to die, talking about hopelessness, behavioural changes, withdrawal from activities, sudden recklessness, overwhelming guilt or shame, among others. She advised that all signs of suicide should be taken seriously. Diving into the major point of the workshop and training, Okafor explained that safe reporting refers to the ethical and responsible coverage of sensitive topics such as suicide, violence, mental health, and other potentially distressing issues. She added: “In the context of suicide reporting, safe reporting involves following guidelines and best practices to minimise the risk of causing harm, including the potential for contributing to suicide contagion or promoting harmful behaviour.” She enumerated safe reporting of suicide principles and practices as minimising graphic details, promoting help-seeking, sensitive language and framing, considering vulnerable audiences, educating and informing. She also maintained that reporting that failed to provide context or resources related to mental health, trauma, or suicide can leave audiences uninformed and ill-equipped to understand and respond to these issues. She mentioned that omitting information about available support services and resources may create a sense of hopelessness and isolation for those in need. Journalists were also made to understand that interviewing survivors of suicide attempts requires a careful and sensitive approach. She noted: “Approach the interview with sensitivity and empathy and be prepared to adapt your approach based on the survivor’s needs and responses.” She also explained that reporting suicide news is a deeply distressing and complex issue, which calls for a compassionate approach. She also spoke against attentiongrabbing stories, stressing that they could perpetuate the stigma surrounding mental health and suicide by contributing to misconceptions, fear, and a lack of understanding. This was also as she cautioned journalists to be hyper-careful in how they described stories of celebrity suicides.

Ethical considerations

Speaking on Ethical Considerations Language When Reporting Suicide, Okafor noted: “Be careful with your choice of words when describing suicide. Use person-centred language that avoids dehumanising or stigmatising labels, such as ‘individual who died by suicide’ instead of ‘suicide victim’. She also urged journalists who report suicide to embark on self to avoid secondary trauma. She explained that secondary trauma, also known as ‘vicarious trauma’ or ‘compassion fatigue’, “is the emotional and psychological stress that can result from witnessing or hearing about the traumatic experiences of others. While primary trauma involves direct exposure to a traumatic event, secondary trauma occurs when individuals are indirectly impacted by the trauma of others, such as in professions where individuals regularly encounter trauma survivors.” Okafor stated that signs and symptoms of secondary trauma are: “Intrusive thoughts related to the traumatic experiences of others may manifest, causing distress and preoccupation with the suffering and pain of those they have encountered in their professional roles. “Some individuals may develop a sense of emotional numbness or detachment as a coping mechanism to protect themselves from the intense emotional impact of the stories and experiences they have encountered. “Secondary trauma can lead to increased irritability and heightened emotional reactivity, making it challenging for individuals to manage their emotions in their personal and professional lives. Secondary trauma can contribute to a sense of disillusionment or loss of purpose, leading individuals to question the value or impact of their work.”


The Psychologist advocated for journalists covering issues relating to suicide and trauma to embark on self-care by learning to prioritise their mental health amid their busy schedules. She stated: “Self-care is crucial in this situation in the context of mental health; self-care involves developing mental management skills, asking for assistance when necessary, engaging their brains, and establishing firm boundaries. Self-care aims at promoting the overall mental health and wellbeing of professionals.” Giving mental self-care tips for media professionals, Okafor urged journalists to maintain a work-life balance and find ways to de-stress on busy days. “This could involve listening to music, podcasts, reading novels or even watching movies. They should ensure that they obtain sufficient sleep, both in terms of quality and quantity, aiming for six to eight hours of uninterrupted rest.” The Chief Executive Officer of Child Solidarity Group, Emediong Akpabio urged the trainees to transfer their knowledge to their colleagues in their various media organisations as it will increase safe reporting for a better society.

US mission

The Spokesperson for the US Mission in Nigeria, Gilbert Morton, commended the organisers, said: “I appreciate Idimma and the entire team. It is important to see how our programme comes to play. You’re building media capacity and improving their skill sets on some of the difficult topics of Gender-based Violence and suicide. Three days is a lot of time, but it is a time well spent.” He further stated: “We have a strong interest in deepening training and seeing how trauma is reported. These are very hard topics. We should think about the way we present these topics. These are psychological issues difficult to present. “When reporting, consider the wellbeing of the survivors and how to phrase language. Play this role well and tell these stories, so that people will not forget these stories. Tell the stories in the best way possible.”

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