Media distort suicide stories based on gender

A new study from the MedUni Vienna released on Monday shows that gender stereotypes are strongly exhibited when Austrian daily newspapers report on suicide-related events.

Media distort suicide stories based on gender
Photo: UniMed Wien

The study looked at 507 articles containing the word 'suicide' from eleven Austrian daily newspapers from between 1997 and 2005.  It found that reports on the suicides (and related attempts) showed a distinct gender bias.

The paradox was identified that the ratio of men to women who commit suicide is three to one – but attempts at suicide are reversed, with three women to every man.

According to the analysis, the key to understanding this paradox is based on the reported motives.  Articles about suicide in women focus on 'sociability, relationships with other people and motives that are anchored in the family environment.'  Often, psychiatric problems are identified as a motive, which can lead to stigmatization.

By way of contrast, most articles reporting suicide attempts by men relate to anger and rejection.

According to study leader Brigitte Eisenwort of the University Department of Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at the MedUni Vienna,  "Mental illnesses are described in a stigmatising way and are also generally under-represented, since they are barely mentioned at all in reports about suicidal men. This means that one key approach to prevention fails to register in the minds of Austrian readers. Psychiatric illnesses can be treated. The suicide risk can be reduced as a result."

Journalists should therefore take care to present as correct a view as possible of suicidal tendencies and not revert to stereotypical portrayals of men and women.  In particular, men who may be considering suicide would benefit from psychiatric help, which they may avoid seeking due to such stigmatization.

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