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!

cheetoz45680 said...
Jul. 11, 2011 at 2:22 pm
It's good. I do admit that I took it a little offensive. I was suicidal and it hurts me when people commit it. No matter what the age is. But great writing. Good luck.
miracle_of_hope replied...
Aug. 10, 2011 at 9:53 pm

i agree with cheetoz45680 but i understand that the 'norms' or people who have never thought of doing it seriously may have impressions of it which differ to the truth........

but the writer has an amazing talent with a mature attitude and phrasing can we please focus on that???

cheetoz45680 replied...
Aug. 11, 2011 at 9:34 pm
yeah she is really good and i liked her piece. she deff did alot of research
AJFruitninja said...
Jun. 19, 2011 at 2:25 pm
A friend of mine is suicidal and I fear for her life every day, thinking that one day I'd get a phone call saying she's dead. Great article, very well written.
K.M.S.Shear said...
Jun. 19, 2011 at 9:04 am
I liked the way you wrote the article.
Becca17 said...
May 28, 2011 at 7:36 am
very well put, you showed statistics, alarming facts, it was evidence you did your research before writing this article. I applaud you for recognizing a touching subject that people need to be educated on and the media should be handling differently.
ben dover said...
May 12, 2011 at 1:38 pm
suicide is not funny. it ruins familys. some people need to think before they say thinngs.
shinegirl24 said...
Apr. 27, 2011 at 5:25 pm
You wrote this very well. It was obvious that you did your research well, and this is an incredibly tough subject. You're absolutely right. I think people don't take this seriously until they know someone who did it. I never did until I lost someone close.
musicgirl757 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Apr. 27, 2011 at 4:23 pm
So true. There is a lot of controversal issues with this of course because you want to have the death remembered but you don't want to glamorize it. Well written and well done.
Ddzth254 said...
Apr. 26, 2011 at 12:29 am
5 dimes alicia keys spitting  the truth baby
12333 said...
Apr. 13, 2011 at 6:42 pm
well written, and somewhat accurate. from someone who has had lots of experience with suicide, when following another death, it  usually isnt for attention or to look cool. actually, these kids have probably been thinking about it, and think "oh ok... so other people can do it.... its not all that bad like not so out of the ordinary" orrrr they were thinking "hm.... i cant cope with the guitl of knowing my best frend took her life and i couldv helped" (especially if their friend had told th... (more »)
Aderes18 said...
Apr. 2, 2011 at 7:24 pm

I agree. I actually know someone who comitted suicide. A family friend comitted suicide just out of the blue. It seems very weird to me because he was a very nice, calm normal person. He did it by inhaling carbon monoxide in his car. 

Anyway, I've read articles about this before and I find this phenomenon interesting.

blublood replied...
Apr. 8, 2011 at 1:24 am
I honestly doubt that his suicide was "out of the blue". These things take a long time to fully show themselves- he probably had many  other factors playing a part in his death (i.e., depression, possibly manic, or other stressful things going on, loss of family, divorce, ect.). However, sucide is serious and I feel like many teens don't see it that way.
Aderes18 replied...
Apr. 8, 2011 at 6:48 pm
To me, it was out of the blue. But my mom said that he might have had cancer and she said that he had issues at work. I agree that suicide is a important issue. Anyway, this guy was not a teen he was a man in his fifties. I disagree that teens don't take suicide seriously. I think most teens take suicide seriously. 
Aderes18 replied...
Apr. 8, 2011 at 6:51 pm
To me, it was out of the blue. My mom said that he might have had cancer and that he had issues at home.  Suicide is serious. This guy wasn't a teenager, he was a man in his fifties. I disagree that teens don't take suicide seriously. I think most teens take suicide seriously. 
Secrets said...
Mar. 27, 2011 at 2:38 pm
That was wonderfully written and u have some very valid points
miracle_of_hope said...
Aug. 10, 2011 at 9:55 pm
um ive been suicidal and im christian..... honestly its a case of some people need to find their coping mechanism....god is mine but isnt everyones. and god says not to judge
BrynaJo said...
Nov. 21, 2011 at 11:22 am
I found this comment highly offensive. My brother took his own life, and I did a lot of questioning when it came to God. It always bothered me when people said things like "his soul is in He'll" or "he should've found God" and stuff like that. Where was your God when my brother was hurting? Where was he when my brother couldn't bear the pain anymore. If God is so great and food, then why do so many people suffer? They say it's a test, well the. I guess your God is a pretty sick person. At my bro... (more »)
Aspiringauhor said...
Mar. 23, 2011 at 6:28 pm
Yes, I saw another article somewhere about teenaged girls who, when one got pregnant, the rest followed. There were about 10 pregnant girls at one high school... I have no idea why they would want that, though!
PerfectMGymnast This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Mar. 23, 2011 at 3:43 pm
This was so nicley written! :)
Saved_By_Grace said...
Mar. 16, 2011 at 5:19 pm

Incredibly written. My brother lost a dear friend to suicide a few months back, and even though I never knew her, it just made me sad.

You've done your research well and are incredibly good at getting ideas across. Well done.

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