The saying that, “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you” is not really true!  Especially when it comes to how violent, self-destructive and suicidal behavior are reported or how people with mental illness are depicted in the news and creative media.

It goes beyond the recent news that have led some to embrace the myth that people with psychological disorders are more dangerous than those who don’t, that they commit more murders or are crazy, which encourages discrimination and enhances mental health stigma.

No, words and images can, literally, encourage people to hurt themselves, even, commit suicide. Of great importance, when you consider that suicide causes more deaths in the US each year than auto accidents; that 1 out of 5 Americans experience some form of mental illness and close to 10 million adults (4% of the population) have suicidal thoughts on an annual basis [sources: SAMHSA, Centers for Disease Control, AFSP].

That was the focus of Helping or Hurting? The Media’s Impact in Reporting Mental Health, February 23, 2018 at the NYU Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute in NYC attended by over 70 students and professionals involved in print, broadcast and creative media, mental health, human resources and others.

A collaboration between Samaritans Suicide Prevention Center and NYU Journalism’s News & Documentary program the symposium addressed the fact that certain types of media coverage increase the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable individuals, the magnitude of the increase related to the amount, duration, and prominence of the coverage [sources: World Health Organization, NYS Psychiatric Institute, NAMI, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and others].

The symposium featured media and mental health experts including: Dan Romer, Annenberg Public Policy Center, Colleen Longfellow Carr, National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, Randi Pochtar, NYU Child Study Center, Jennifer Fermino, former City Hall bureau chief, NY Daily News, Dan Goldberg, Politico, health reporters Nicole Loren, ESPN and Audrey Quinn, WNYC, Alan Ross, executive director, Samaritans and Marcia Rock, director, NYU Journalism News & Documentary.