Suicide and the Media

June 18, 2008
Sensitivity must be used when the media reports on teen suicides. Sounds obvious, but it doesn’t always happen. And when it doesn’t, you often find copycat attempts in the wake of a teen suicide. How does it happen? Impulsive teenagers are more prone to suicide. Studies have shown that this, combined with a glamorized ­account of the details and the nature of the suicide – the method used, and other titillating information – can cause a spike in teen suicide in the local area. And, when a famous person commits suicide, teen suicide rises on a national level.

Teens often romanticize adventure and living on the edge. According to Pamela Cantor, president of the National Committee for the Prevention of Youth Suicide, this can be a deadly combination when faced with a suicide. Cantor says, “Kids see that this is a glamorous way to die, a way to get a lot of attention that they couldn’t get in life.” In an interview, Loren Coleman, author of The Copycat Effect, said, “When the media comes in and does a graphic depiction of it – it doesn’t work to scare kids away.” He notes that teens even create a fantasy of what their funeral will look like. They imagine flying over their funeral and seeing how much they are missed.

In 2005, one young person in the United States committed suicide every two hours. That’s approximately 4,500 teen suicides! Of those, 100 to 200 teens died in clusters. In many cases, the additional victims were friends of the teen or identified strongly with something about his story reported in the news.

In Plano, Texas, where one of the first reported clusters occurred 25 years ago, a teen’s suicide was tragically followed by eight more teen deaths, mostly using the same method. Similarly, when a popular teenager in Bergenfield, New Jersey, ended his life in 1987, several of his friends killed themselves six months later. This was followed by two additional suicide attempts using a similar method. And, when the cluster was studied more carefully, an additional four teen deaths were linked to this first suicide.

Copycat and cluster suicides are played out on a national level when a famous person commits suicide. Media coverage of the event is nonstop, which often leads to more tragedy. For example, according to the New York Magazine article “A Dying Trend,” when Marilyn Monroe took her life in August 1962, the suicide rate in the following month rose by 12 percent, which was an additional 197 suicides.

This phenomenon is not limited to the United States. In 1986 in Tokyo, Japan, 18-year-old Okada Yukiko, a popular Japanese singer, took her life. Her widely reported death resulted in a staggering 31 teen suicides in the following two weeks, a phenomenon that the mass media in Japan called “the Yukko syndrome.”

So what can be done? Research has shown that the way the media handles the reporting of suicides can be critical in reducing copycats and clusters. A study was conducted in Vienna. Between 1984 and 1987, there were a large number of suicides by people who jumped in front of trains. The media coverage was overly dramatic and graphic. A campaign urging the media to change its coverage of these tragedies ­resulted in an 80 percent decrease in incidents of this type of suicide.

According to the Suicide and Mental Health ­Association International’s report on Suicide Contagion, the media should not sensationalize the event or glamorize the victim or act. Describing the method used should also be kept to a minimum. Another ­important step the media can take is to ­focus on the mental health aspects of the suicide. Just saying that the victim was “stressed” or “under pressure” makes it too easy for other teenagers to identify with the victim. Those who commit suicide often have long-standing mental health issues that are often ignored in the media coverage, which is a huge mistake.

Teenagers need to see that they are not “just like” the teen who committed suicide. Suicide is caused by many factors; it is not acceptable for the media to be one of them.

Join the Discussion

This article has 223 comments. Post your own now!

zinniaisabella said...
Nov. 23, 2016 at 9:26 pm
this is great!! Are you a teen?
SophieLoffie This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jan. 10, 2016 at 5:44 pm
So true!Amazing article!
Caroline943 said...
Jan. 24, 2015 at 10:36 am
This is a good piece of writing. I myself had tried to take my own life 7 times within last January to this January. It was all from bullying.
Nated315This teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jan. 23, 2015 at 11:30 am
Sad thing is that when a teen experiences loss, or is extremely depressed, and they see or hear about someone in their community committing suicide, they feel that they have found an easy way out.
annonymouschris said...
Nov. 28, 2014 at 2:22 pm
So true. I always get disturbed when people kill themselves--young or old--because it's like throwing away God's gift to life!
Nated315This teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jan. 11, 2016 at 10:34 am
it really is!!! it always gets better, but people don't seem to get that.
ChristianCapers replied...
Jan. 12, 2016 at 11:05 am
But even though it is really against God's plan to kill yourselves, and it will always get better, at least they are angels now
Nated315This teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jan. 15, 2016 at 10:54 am
so true! Now they can help others in their position.
Victorialeo17 said...
Apr. 25, 2014 at 6:43 pm
This is so TRUE!
AandG This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jan. 12, 2014 at 9:30 pm
Very well thought out and put together, I have to agree with all these points!
WinstonSmith said...
Apr. 28, 2013 at 8:05 pm
Suicide is never the answer.
MarieAntoinette2012 said...
Oct. 17, 2012 at 11:07 am
I have clinical depression, but I've never tried. I though about it a long time ago, but not now.
RedDaisy said...
Jan. 28, 2012 at 2:20 am
Very nice & informative article on teen suicide and the media. The statistics and dates were a very outstanding detail that made this more worthwhile to read. As this is an informative health article, I'm glad that opinions were kept to a minimun as that reflects on the reliability of your article.
Emily C. said...
Jan. 25, 2012 at 5:39 pm
This really bugs, I don't have a lot of mental issues and I almost committed suicide myself, I didn't want to get attention, I was just tired of my life the bullying, being ignore, even by my own family. I just wanted to float away to a different plain, it's probably just like sleeping. The thing is though I am a teen, depressed sort of and I don't want attention when I die I just wanted to be free from all of this and the only thing that stopped me was thinking about how my family would feel, t... (more »)
ChickenLegHouse replied...
Sept. 12, 2012 at 8:30 am
Good for you. Sticking around for your family is a million times more brave then killing yourself.
Wintergrl7 said...
Jan. 3, 2012 at 6:56 pm
I loved this article, and raised very important points. But I don't agree that this is about attention. You almost sound like you are accusing the poor teens that have died or attempted to commit suicide that it was only because they wanted attention. A half of all teenagers in the united states are depressed on some level. Sure, there may be some thought in the back of a teens head thinking about the attention they would get, but that is BECAUSE they are depressed, therefore thinking suicide ... (more »)
BrynaJo said...
Nov. 20, 2011 at 10:32 pm
I really don't think people take their own lives for attention. People take their lives because they have run out of options. They don't know what else to do. They have so much pain inside, that they just cant take it anymore. When someone is at that point, chances are, they aren't thinking about attention. They are, most likely, thinking about making all that pain go away.
PartyNinjaaXDD replied...
Dec. 12, 2011 at 10:30 am
You're comment is True, But Most Teens do just want attention. they belive if they do the suicide in such a way that it takes time for them to die, they will. They hope and pray that somone will find them and help.
BrynaJo replied...
Dec. 12, 2011 at 12:34 pm
I think that what they want depends on the way the attempt the suicide. Pills- there's a chance I will live Gas poison- someone may find me Hanging- there's a silm chance I will actually do this right Jumping- I want them to see me die Gun- I'm finished
bubblesrfun replied...
Dec. 12, 2011 at 6:52 pm
I agree with BrynaJo's second comment. There are definetely different levels of seriousness and attention getting. But the ways aren't always true. Sometimes, suicidal people use whatever is available, not only what would work best.
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