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Nonprofit Supporting Military Families Grieving Suicide Losses Offers Tips for the Media on Covering Suicide

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – January 14, 2013

WASHINGTON –Today the Associated Press reported that there were 349 deaths by suicide among active duty U.S. military service members in 2012. It represents a fourteen percent increase over suicide losses in 2011, when 301 service members died by suicide. 

The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), provides bereavement support to anyone grieving the death of a service member, regardless of where they died or how they died.

TAPS intakes on average 8-10 people per week who are grieving a suicide loss and has more than 3,000 people within its network grieving the death of a service member by suicide. Eighteen percent of new people contacting TAPS in 2012 for care and support were grieving a death by suicide.

“We are deeply saddened by this loss of life, and renew our commitment to support the military families left behind who are grieving the deaths of service members by suicide. We know that at least 10 people are personally impacted by each death and every death is a tragedy,” said Bonnie Carroll, founder of TAPS and former co-chair of the congressionally-mandated Department of Defense Task Force on the Prevention of Suicide in the Armed Forces.

“When a service member is in distress, we owe him or her an immediate and comprehensive response. We do not expect for a soldier with a broken leg to be strong and get up and become better without seeking medical treatment.  When a soldier is suffering from a mental health injury, he or she deserves medical treatment and the very best care that is available,” said Kim Ruocco, TAPS director of suicide postvention programs and surviving widow of Marine Major John Ruocco, who died by suicide in 2005.

“Untreated depression, traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress can be deadly. Do not let your loved one, peer or co-worker suffer. Treatment is available and treatment works,” said Ruocco. “The earlier you get treatment, the more unlikely it is that your injury or illness will adversely affect your life."

“We must continue to look at how our leaders talk about mental health, how we are treating illness and injury, and how we can provide hope for those who need treatment,” said Ruocco.

Service members and veterans who are struggling with thoughts of suicide and families who are concerned about their service member or veteran, can request help by calling 1.800.273.TALK (8255) and www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Ruocco noted that when a family is in distress after the suicide of a service member, it takes a community of care to support them. TAPS finds that survivors of suicide often feel alone and isolated in their grief. Stigma about the cause of death often causes these families to suffer in silence. We hope that when these families are ready for care and support, they will reach out to TAPS.

Bereaved military families can reach out to TAPS at any time, day or night, at 1-800-959-TAPS (8277) or through our website at www.taps.org.

TAPS issues the following tips for the news media covering suicide in the military, based on the best practices for reporting on suicide found online at: www.reportingonsuicide.org

More than 50 research studies worldwide have found that certain types of news coverage can increase the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable individuals.  Risk of additional suicides increases when the story explicitly describes the suicide method, uses dramatic/graphic headlines or images, and repeated/extensive coverage sensationalizes deaths by suicide.

Covering suicide carefully, even briefly, can change public misperceptions and encourage those who are at risk to seek help. TAPS asks the news media to consider the following best practices:

- Inform the audience without sensationalizing. Instead of saying “military suicide epidemic” or “military suicides skyrocket” or “military suicide crisis” say “military suicides rise” or “higher numbers”  or “increased numbers”

- Consider the images you use. Instead of using photos showing crying families, military funerals or locations of death – show family photos of the person alive before death.

- Include information to support help-seeking. Include the hotline for service members and families 1.800.273.TALK (8255) and www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org with your story.

- Remove judgment on the manner of death. Instead of saying “committed suicide” or “took their own lives,” say “died by suicide” or “completed suicide.”

- Exercise gentleness when talking with families left behind after a suicide. Survivors grieving the death of a loved one who served in the Armed Forces need time to process their experience and it takes time for the military to provide reports and information to the family. We strongly advise any media interviewing survivors to review the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma’s interview tips for journalists talking with trauma survivors and its resources on reporting about suicide found at www.dartcenter.org.

- Suicide is complex and that complexity informs good reporting.
There are almost always multiple causes involved with a suicide loss, including psychiatric illnesses and mental health injuries, that may not have been recognized or treated. However, these illnesses are treatable and it is important to share that treatment is available and suicide is not an inevitable outcome.

- Avoid reporting that death by suicide was preceded by a single event, or is linked to a single cause. Reporting like this leaves the public with an overly simplistic and misleading understanding of suicide.

About TAPS
The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivor (TAPS) is the national organization providing compassionate care for the families of America’s fallen military heroes and has offered support to more than 35,000 surviving family members of our fallen military and their caregivers since 1994. TAPS provides peer-based emotional support, grief and trauma resources, grief seminars for adults, Good Grief Camps for children, case work assistance, connections to community-based care, and a 24/7 resource and information helpline for all who have been affected by a death in the Armed Forces. Services are provided free of charge. For more information go to www.taps.org  or call the toll-free resource and information helpline at 800.959.TAPS.

Media contact: Ami Neiberger-Miller, Public Affairs Officer, 202.588.8277, ami@taps.org


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