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!

branhambaby said...
Jul. 16, 2010 at 11:08 pm
Its probably never because the world isnt good enough for them, but that they arent good enough for the world.  its not selfish to themselves, but it does effect the people around them, and eventually when eople learn why someone did it, if they do, they might feel like they were in a better place. theres usually signs to prevent it, people just never care enough until after its happened to try and make a difference, but by then its to late.
Caitlin D. replied...
Nov. 11, 2010 at 3:11 pm
What you said is really interesting. I don't think kids ignore the signs because they don't care, but that they just don't know how. Or they have the uninformed belief that their friend is just vying for attention. But you were totally right when you said that there are usually signs, and a lot of people don't do anything. I think schools should take on the responsibility of making kids more aware about the signs and what they can do to help. 
EveMarie said...
Jul. 16, 2010 at 10:26 am
this is very well written, with a nice balance of statistics and facts. I love how you did not just repeat everything we learn in school about suidcide, but included the medias role. thank you  
_SoftSpot_ said...
Jun. 10, 2010 at 8:51 pm
What? Goodness, no. I'm not saying that people don't see it as a good way to go, but are you trying to say that's the only reason? What about for people who just can't seem to live on anymore? I've considered it almost every day for a few months when my boyfriend died because I couldn't bear the thought of living on without him.
Aelita replied...
Jul. 24, 2010 at 4:44 pm
That is never the right answer.
Eilina S. said...
Jun. 10, 2010 at 4:59 pm
The one problem I have with this article is that it doesn't point out what can be done to stop this phenomenon. It's a great article, and I'm rating it 5/5, but people need to consider the issues raised by it and how to solve them. I don't think many people realise the blinding gap people leave behind. It's often people who are lonely who begin to think of suicide, or those who find life boring, so maybe more should be done in local communities to inlucde youths of all backgrounds such as varied... (more »)
shywriter said...
Jun. 10, 2010 at 10:08 am
I know what you mean!! Most of my friends have contemplated suicide because they were sick of their life and wanted to end it. They wouldn't have thought about it if the media didn't highlight it as a new fad. Nice job on the article!
MonnieCuh said...
Jun. 10, 2010 at 9:46 am

Suicide is somehting not to take lightly. You can never understand why someone would want to hurt themselves or try to kill themselves unless you put yourself into their shoes.

Even if it is a stupid. My best friend wanted to kill herself because a lot of reasons one being that her boyfriend was an a** and he was extremely upset that she was cutting herself (she cut because of reasons involving unwanted sexual activities which is extremely tragic for a 15 year old to go through).

<... (more »)
jayjay2015 said...
May 19, 2010 at 8:04 pm
I have never considered suicide before!  I have never felt that 'the world isn't good enough for me', or that 'I am not good enough for the world'.  I thought that this article was very tragic, being that many teens killed theirselves because of others.  There is always a way through it.  It doesn't have to come down to suicide.
angier said...
May 19, 2010 at 7:46 pm

A few months ago a guy at my school commited suicide ... And my cousin tryed to too ... It doesnt matter if the attempt is made or if its done ... Its wrong - I once was so mad I took a knife and sliced my arm-After I did it - I looked at my arm and just broke down and started crying - I couldn't believe I had done that. The situation was stupid ... I couldnt believe - I was doing something like that to myself. I have a scar to this day - people ask what its from and I cover... (more »)

Kennedi replied...
Sept. 5, 2010 at 4:24 pm
Thanks for that.. I felt the same way after I did that....
chihuahuaman said...
May 19, 2010 at 12:38 pm
Very good article. opened my eyes opened the staggering number of suicides. its truely sad that this happens and people resort suicide instead of talking it out.
thepunkrockchick replied...
May 19, 2010 at 6:59 pm
I know people should want to live there lives not end them. Kids shouldnt follow their friends foot steps if that happens. The kids just didn't see the opportunities they had in life
kiwi13 said...
May 17, 2010 at 3:20 pm
i think this articel was very eye opening and it was a great article
you_are_awesome said...
May 12, 2010 at 1:27 pm

i dont mean to offend anyone and i could easily be wrong because ive never been suicidal myself but...

i dont understand how someone could get to the point where they want to take their own life-in a way thats like saying "the world just isnt good enough for me".

there is ALWAYS a way out. always! and no matter what happens there will always be atleast one more perfect day, perfect moment when everything in the world is right.

i dont understand why you dont wait for ... (more »)

Josie A. replied...
May 18, 2010 at 4:21 pm
i've struggled with suicidal thoughts for the past two years.  for me, personally, it was never that 'the world wasn't good enough for me,' it was quite the opposte--'i'm not good enough for the world.' and yeah, sure, i guess that you are right about the fact that people who consider/commit suicide don't have that sort of positive perspective, but its understandable why they don't. people who consider/have considered suicide (me included) often feel like they've lost everything (and someti... (more »)
you_are_awesome replied...
May 19, 2010 at 4:20 am
thanks for your reply :)  Hope you never feel like that again
QuaddyAnn replied...
Sept. 2, 2010 at 1:51 pm

ur awsome

Some people have a physical disease that sets them in that suicidal frame of mind. It doesn't have to do with their life. They can have everything in the world, but still be captured by dangerous thoughts.

"the world isn't  good enough for me." isn't how people think. Its "I am not good enough for the world." Thats when they end their life.

Think about it.

bigcat said...
May 4, 2010 at 11:16 pm
I think suicide's selfish
kassidy.14 replied...
May 20, 2010 at 3:53 pm
How is suicide selfish?
army_alyssa replied...
May 26, 2010 at 8:38 am
agreed. sucide is selfish.
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