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!

jhfkhd said...
Dec. 3, 2010 at 10:25 am
Great job!!!
BieberLover4ever said...
Nov. 29, 2010 at 6:34 pm
I think this article is very helpful to people/teens who are trying to commit suicide, just because you have problems  dont mean they'll go away if you kill yourself...sometimes problems get even worse when people commit suicide.
want to live said...
Nov. 16, 2010 at 3:26 am
Amen!  This is exactly right!
mom of teen said...
Nov. 16, 2010 at 3:24 am
My son killed himself, and I know he didn't do it because the media made it look like the people that have done it get more attention...  He was medically ill!  If only his counselor could have figured it out, but he just said, "be happy" and "choose something else on the table of options".  Then he released my son, 3 months later, he killed himself!
KrystalT replied...
Dec. 3, 2010 at 3:38 pm
im so sorry for your los...
phoenix replied...
Mar. 3, 2011 at 2:24 pm
First of all, i am so sorry for your loss. It is a terrible thing to have to deal with. However, i don't think the author of this article in any way meant to suggest that every person who commits suicide, does it because of the media, instead i think that they meant to say that the way the media is reporting suicides is not a good one and that it has lead to a rise of suicides. It is always awful when people tell people just to be happy and do not understand that it is not always a choice. 
sallysunshine replied...
Mar. 18, 2011 at 8:22 am
i do not care if ur son commited suicide .... thats hes WEAK problem
friendship said...
Nov. 9, 2010 at 12:39 pm
if you feel like you are going to kill yourself you may want to think of what you are going to miss out on and you should get help and no let your life go
CrimsonTears96 replied...
Nov. 10, 2010 at 11:34 am

Really, that's what all people who feel suicidal, or self-injur do. They think of the better things in life.

But trust me, that suicidal state of mind never goes away. You can't talk yourself out of it.

Its way easier said, than done.

MangoMadness replied...
Nov. 23, 2010 at 8:08 pm
I know. Been there. Luckily for me, three things stood my way. One, I didn't have the guts to do anything potientially painful to end my life, so basically i wimped out. Two, my dad reckoned that, after-life wise, those who commit suicide are the ones trapped in the ghost state of being, never passig on. A matter of opinion, I know, but still, what if? Ouch. Obviously I couldn't have that. And the final straw, the one that sealed the deal, came when I unexplainably fell in love. At thirteen, i h... (more »)
close_to_it replied...
Jan. 18, 2011 at 12:32 am
You can't just say that people who think of suicide are mental, it really doesn't get anybody anywhere because like it or not, its not true. Teens are incredibly fragile, in ways that many adults seem to forget. Anything that hurts is devastating.  Its torture realizing that you have been so close to suicide and knowing you aren't strong enough to change that mentality. The one thing that I have found that personally helped me is being around people who truly care about you other than your ... (more »)
drf409 said...
Oct. 28, 2010 at 12:00 pm
I can relate to this article. Every year I would hear how a teenager would take their own lives over craziness. I think teenage moms should get together and talk to their children about suicide. Teenagers these days would kill themselves just because they are depressed or they feel left out. Killing yourself is not the way.
friendship replied...
Nov. 9, 2010 at 12:44 pm
i think you are right but teenagers should not be moms yet their parents should get togather and do something about it because if you are a teenage mom you will feel even more stressed and worried and it will seem like you have even more on your hands so i think you should let your parents work it out  but i still think you are right
kkd303 said...
Oct. 28, 2010 at 10:47 am
I agree on the opinion the author has. This subject is important and needs to be discussed. Suicide is a problem that needs to be talked about between parents and their teenager or teenagers. I like the quote, “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.” There are many other ways to get attention. Suicide is not the only way.
ceb105 said...
Oct. 27, 2010 at 8:55 am
This article poses many thought-provoking facts. I agree that the media coverage of teen suicides should be changed and does affect other teens in a negative way. We teens are normally brought up with a desire to be like others. Even if it is wanting to be unique, we want to be unique like other people. Showing that the suicide victim was "just another average teen" and "it could have been anyone" causes this inborn desire to flare up, and combined with a topic such as suicide, should not be mes... (more »)
Dylanjegart said...
Oct. 26, 2010 at 2:26 pm
I believe a majority of information in this article is true. This is to many suicides from teenagers. There needs to be a way for this to be prevented.
bjb103 said...
Oct. 26, 2010 at 9:13 am
I agree with everyone who posted comments. Teens are mostly the ones who commit suicide. They commit suicide because they feel awful, and yes, they can get help. They want to commit suicide because of what happened to them, what they seen, or maybe even death in their family. So since these misfortunes happen, they just want to end their life. That is not a great way to end their life.
KRD108 said...
Oct. 26, 2010 at 9:05 am
I agree with the fact that media attention does encourage more suicide attempts.  I agree because most people who attempt suicide do it for attention, so when they see other people getting attention from the media, they attempt it too.  The best way to stop this would be if the media would stop covering suicides.  It only encourages other people to do it.  I think this story was extremely well written, and made many good points on teen suicide.
smb101 said...
Oct. 26, 2010 at 9:01 am
The passage above does share some great points, but to some teens suicide is the only way out. Life can be rough and although teens should be able to handle it,some can't. The fact that teens think that it's a glamourous thing is surprising. Honestly, no death is glamourous, but that's my own personal opinion. I understand the teens who want to because they feel life its hard or they're too stressed more than the teens who wants to because it's glamourous. I agree with neither.
John_C_Polles said...
Oct. 20, 2010 at 7:10 pm
People who commit suicide do not have the idea planted in their head. If they're in danger, they will have already thought of doing it themselves. The media very may well play a role in planting a method in the teens' heads, but the feelings that make someone suicidal were already present. People do not commit suicide to be glamorous or selfish or attention-seeking -- they kill themselves because they don't feel as though they have any way out of the sadness and axiety they are feeling. They don... (more »)
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