Section 5: Harm and Offence

Suicide, Attempted Suicide, Self-Harm and Eating Disorders


Suicide, attempted suicide and self-harm should be portrayed with great sensitivity, whether in drama or in factual programmes.  Factual reporting and fictional portrayal of suicide, attempted suicide and self-harm have the potential to make such actions appear possible, and even appropriate, to the vulnerable. 


Any proposal to broadcast a hanging scene, portray suicide, attempted suicide or self-harm must be referred to a senior editorial figure or, for independents, to the commissioning editor.  Referral should also be made to Chief Adviser Editorial Policy. 

Care must be taken to avoid describing or showing suicide or self-harming methods in explicit detail, unless there is a clear editorial justification. 


The sensitive use of language is also important.  Suicide was decriminalised in 1961 and since then the use of the term "commit" is considered offensive by some people.  "Take one's life" or "kill oneself" are preferable alternatives.  We should consider whether a helpline or support material should be provided, or linked to, when our output deals with such issues.  The Samaritans are usually willing to be consulted by programme makers and other content producers about the portrayal of suicide and have published their own guidance for broadcasters. 


Care is also required when portraying, in factual or fictional content, conditions such as anorexia or bulimia.  We should be aware that the vulnerable, especially the young, may imitate or emulate behaviour and techniques depicted.  Care should be taken to ensure that content is responsible and appropriate for the likely audience.  Helplines or support material should be provided, or linked to, when necessary.

(See Section 14 Editorial Integrity and Independence from External Interests: 14.4.34 - 14.4.37 and Section 17 Interacting with our Audiences: 17.4.21)