When someone you know has died by suicide, the media may approach you wanting comment or an interview. This may happen immediately following the person's death or several months or years later.

If anyone in the media contacts you and asks to tell your story, it is your choice whether or not you speak to them. If the coroner is investigating the death as a suspected suicide, there are some restrictions on what the media can report. They cannot make public:

  • The method or suspected method of the death
  • Any detail (like the place of death) that might suggest the method or suspected method of the death
  • A description of the death as a suicide before the coroner has released their findings and stated the death was a suicide (although the death can be described as a suspected suicide before then).

‘Making public’ doesn’t just mean news reports and other media – it includes things like public posts on Facebook too.

Individuals and media may apply to the chief coroner for an exemption to these restrictions.

Please note: if a death occurred before 22 July 2016, only the person’s name and age is allowed to be published before the coroner releases their finding. If a coroner finds the person did take their own life, only the person’s name, address, occupation and that their death was a suicide may be published. However, if the coroner is investigating the death as a suspected suicide, legally no details about the death can be published until the inquiry is completed.

You may prefer not to share your personal experiences. If you share your story with media, you may not have control over how the story is presented and what details are shared with the public. However, for some people, sharing their story can be a way of influencing how their loved one is remembered. It may also serve to highlight the devastating impact of suicide and help other families or whānau who may be going through this experience.

Stuff.co.nz has also created an editorial code of practice and ethics outlining appropriate reporting for its journalists  when covering a suicide. You may like to ask a Stuff reporter what they know of these guidelines, and how they will be reporting on your story in line with them.

When I told my story of my wife’s suicide, I felt a sense of empowerment at having her life be presented in a meaningful way. She was more than the suicide event.  I ensured photos were included and that I saw the quotes attributed to me. I did a follow up story about 10 years later which was a good way to show how my life has changed and I have recovered.

If you do decide to speak to the media

There are things you can do to prepare before you share your story:

  • Wait until you are ready, be clear and firm with the journalist
  • Ask reporters for their names, contact details, which media outlet they work for and ask for a copy of the questions they want to ask you before the interview. If you feel pressured, say you will call them back or have someone else call them
  • It can be helpful to choose a spokesperson to speak on the whānau or family’s behalf. This could be a relative or a friend who is not as closely linked to the person who has died. Consider having them sit with you while you talk to the journalist
  • Another way of handling a media request is to issue a one-off statement outlining the whānau or family’s feelings about the death and asking that your privacy be respected. This can be typed up and given to any media who contact you. Explain that this will be your only comment at this time.
  • Before talking to the media, be very clear with your family and whānau about what is and what is not okay to be said publicly. Perhaps take some time to write down the story of what happened, and take out any details that you don’t feel comfortable sharing with the public. Tell the reporter how you would like to share your story. Be aware that if the media outlet has a website, your story may be available online forever
  • Think about how you want your loved one to be remembered. You might consider sharing the struggles they faced or warning signs to alert other families to help their loved ones who are struggling
  • Think about key messages and emphasise them. You don’t have to answer every question
  • You may ask to see what the reporter writes or tapes before it is made public, but they are not obliged to show you. As soon as you start talking to a reporter, your comments are 'on the record' and may be used
  • Many reporters will take photos and posts off social media without asking permission. Make sure you check the privacy settings on all your social media accounts to ensure they are set at the highest privacy level
  • Be aware that information, photos or film footage you let the media use may be used in the future without your permission – even years later. Anniversaries of the person’s death or their birthday can be times when articles, footage or images may reappear without warning
  • You may like to read Reporting Suicide: A resource for the media, which gives advice to media about how to tell stories about suicide safely and effectively.

There are more things to consider and understand about giving comment to the media in Comment or no comment?

If you decide not to comment

There are some things to keep in mind if you decide not to share your story with the media:

  • You do not have to share your story, and you shouldn't feel guilty about that
  • No response doesn't mean 'no comment'
  • Be aware there are laws and guidelines governing what journalists can and cannot report on
  • Many reporters will take photos and posts off social media without asking permission. Make sure you check the privacy settings on all your social media accounts to ensure they are set at the highest privacy level
  • Consider issuing a written statement if that's easier
  • 'Not now' doesn't have to mean 'not ever'
  • Media attention may increase again.

Read more detail about these considerations in Comment or no comment?