The role of language in suicide reporting: Investigating the influence of problematic suicide referents. Academic Article uri icon


  • BACKGROUND: Although suicide experts recommend using neutral suicide referents in news media reporting, this recommendation has not yet been tested empirically. This recommendation, based on the empirically yet untested assumption that problematic suicide referents carry meaning that is inappropriate from a prevention perspective, may lead to a different perspective on suicide, termed "framing effects." For example, in German-speaking countries, the neutral term Suizid (suicide) is recommended. Conversely, Freitod ("free death") and Selbstmord ("self-murder") convey associative meanings related to problematic concepts such as free will (Freitod) and crime/murder (Selbstmord), and are therefore not recommended. METHOD: Using a web-based randomized controlled trial focused on German speakers (N = 451), we tested whether the news media's use of Suizid, Selbstmord, and Freitod elicits framing effects. Participants read identical news reports about suicide. Only the specific suicide referents varied depending on the experimental condition. Post-reading, participants wrote short summaries of the news reports, completed a word-fragment completion test and a questionnaire targeting suicide-related attitudes. RESULTS: We found that the news frame primed some frame-related concepts in the memory and also increased frame-related word choice. Importantly, we found that participants reading the free will-related Freitod frame showed greater attitudinal support for suicide among individuals suffering from incurable diseases. CONCLUSIONS: This study highlights the importance of how the news media write about suicide and supports the language recommendations put forward by suicide experts.

published proceedings

  • Soc Sci Med

altmetric score

  • 12.5

author list (cited authors)

  • Arendt, F., Scherr, S., Niederkrotenthaler, T., & Till, B.

citation count

  • 19

complete list of authors

  • Arendt, Florian||Scherr, Sebastian||Niederkrotenthaler, Thomas||Till, Benedikt

publication date

  • July 2018