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Research Trends

Media Representation of Gender Patterns of Suicide in Taiwan

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Background: Extensive media reporting of suicide events has been indicated as a contributing factor to the upsurge in suicide rates in Taiwan in the past decade. Aims: The study compares gender differences in sociodemographic profiles and method of suicide selectively reported in the newspapers and all suicide cases registered in official death records. It also identifies gender differences in media reports of suicides. Methods: Articles reporting suicide news from four major newspapers in Taiwan (China Times, United Daily, Liberty Times, and Apple Daily) in 2009 were retrieved and analyzed. Gender differences in sociodemographic profiles of suicides reported in the newspapers and official records of all suicide deaths were compared. Any gender differences in newspaper depictions of contributing factors of suicide and situations surrounding the suicidal acts were compared. Results: Newspapers in Taiwan tended to overreport unusual methods of suicide among men and extended suicide among women. The reasons for suicide in men were more frequently portrayed as work-related or after legal problems, whereas in women suicide was more frequently framed as due to mental illness or relationship problems. The news media tended to underreport mental illness as a reason for suicide in men. Limitation: The analysis was based solely on news reporting in the four major newspapers during the year 2009. Conclusions: Media representation of suicide generally follow societal-gendered assumptions of acceptable/unacceptable behaviors. Media professionals should be more careful and responsible in reporting suicide news and avoid any gender bias in their framing of suicide stories. Sensitive rather than sensational reporting should be promoted in order not to reinforce the myths of suicides in the community.