The Northern Ireland health minister, Michael McGimpsey, has praised four daily newspapers for launching a campaign on suicide prevention.
The Belfast Telegraph, The News Letter, The Irish News and the Irish Daily Mirror joined forces earlier this month to raise awareness of the issues surrounding suicide.
Speaking at a conference organised by Sinn Fein on the issue, McGimpsey said newspapers and broadcasters needed to handle their reporting sensitively.
“This issue requires careful mature handling in the media, as it is possible to make things worse through excessive or inappropriate reporting,” the Ulster Unionist minister told the event at Stormont.
“The media guidelines on suicide reporting already provide a useful framework for sensitive reporting of this issue. It is important that the media make themselves aware of these and follow them when appropriate.”
McGimpsey said responsible reporting of suicide issues could have a “huge impact”. He pointed to a campaign to cut down on media coverage of suicides on the Vienna Underground in the late Eighties, which is claimed to have reduced the number of suicides by 80 per cent.”We are all obliged to act responsibly and maturely on the issue,” he said.
The number of people killing themselves in Northern Ireland has more than doubled in the past 10 years – from 143 in 1996 to 291 last year.
Earlier this year, the Eastbourne Herald in Sussex was commended by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency for helping to cut the number of suicides at Beachy Head.
The Herald has been praised for avoiding sensationalism in its reports of people jumping to their deaths from the top of the Sussex beauty spot. Last year there were seven deaths, whereas in 2005 there were 26, and 22 in 2004.