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!

bigcat said...
May 4, 2010 at 11:16 pm
I think suicide's selfish
Bellz6406 replied...
May 26, 2010 at 10:10 am
actually, having struggled with these thoughts before, it isn't selfish to the person. when i was going to do it, i was trying not to be selfish. making people deal with me and all my problems.. i thought that was too much for anyone to have to do. if i just took myself out of the picture, i wouldn't be such a burden. staying alive was selfish. taking it would have been the sacrifice.
Caitlin D. replied...
Nov. 11, 2010 at 3:25 pm
People who think suicide is selfish are ignorant and have no idea what they are talking about. If you haven't been depressed to the point of suicide before then you absolutely have no right to make such a claim. I could go into an extremely long rant to prove you wrong but I will try to keep it short for your sake. I have struggled with depression for the last four years. I tried to kill myself twice. The first year I was depressed I would sit in my room literally sobbing for hours on end. You c... (more »)
emu1016 said...
Apr. 28, 2010 at 4:02 pm
This is a really eye opening article.
lunar_moon said...
Apr. 27, 2010 at 10:51 pm

I don't belive that the media is somehow "glamourize-ing" the deaths of celbrities. I imagine that it just reminds teenagers that they can do it. Perhaps depressed/suicidal teens think "So a celebrity can do, so of course I can too."

The media may just be almost-without intention-encouraging suicides, not glamourizing them.

All in all, a very good report and very intersting points.

Thinker said...
Apr. 22, 2010 at 7:55 am
First of all find a library and read the book "Crash into me" by Albert Borris, its new so it might take some effort. Secondly, when your life is controled by everyone but you, I would have to imagian, you feel hopeless and downhearted. Also, when you think you've done everything worth doing, what else is there left to do? Now, I'm not saying I think these things, all I'm saying is that we should rely on one of the main emotions that make us human, Empath. No one even seems to care anymore, neve... (more »)
Literalist17 said...
Apr. 5, 2010 at 3:28 pm
im a little conflicted on this article, because while it makes legitimate points, i cant help thinking that its playing the blame game on the media almost entirely. yea i know peoples lives can be horrible, and things sometimes suck, but ultimately, was it not the person who took their own life that made that decision? very conflicted here.
Mary W. said...
Apr. 5, 2010 at 9:26 am
i actually wrote an essay about this, but it also spoke of self-injury. i know im not one to talk about such a thing considering i do it myself, but i actually think i got somewhere with it
TheMaisinator said...
Mar. 14, 2010 at 9:41 pm
This is so eye-opening and makes so much sense. Like a popular hairstyle or fashion trend, monkey see, monkey do. Incredibly well put.
Life-without-a-heartbeat replied...
Mar. 15, 2010 at 1:00 pm
I'm sorry but i must once more add my two cents worth into this. To me and my friends it was not monkey see monkey do it's not a trend. People don't just commit suicide because someone famous or someone else somewhere did. The media should not take teen suicide lightly i agree and they should not broadcast it as they do but on the other hand here the media had no effect on me when i wanted to die.I also feel that people do not end their lives due to the media and what they broadca... (more »)
TheMaisinator replied...
Mar. 15, 2010 at 5:47 pm
That's a very good point, it's usually more than just copying. However, everyone is different and while you personally had more going on, I think it's doing just the same in saying that nobody has hurt themselves due to the media. Seeing things in the news and such is bound to make things curious. As was mentioned, the "games" that kids play, some will try anything, be it for attention or a "high". Sometimes there is more to it, but I think it's just a... (more »)
Life-without-a-heartbeat replied...
Mar. 19, 2010 at 10:17 am
This is very true everyone is different. I see this fatal flaw in my reasoning but I must point out that it goes against all common sense that we have been taught by teachers friends parents and family to do something harmful to yourself due to something you saw in the media. I just don't feel that the media has as much of an impact on suicide than we may think. I might be wrong. This is just my opinion. Thanks for listening! =D
chelseablues replied...
Mar. 19, 2010 at 1:10 pm
Just so there is no confusion, chelseablues is my favorite soccer team, my name is Harris! Thanks for the comments!
Life-without-a-heartbeat replied...
Mar. 22, 2010 at 11:05 am bad =P lolz ^-^ I make mistakes alot >.<
Anonymous said...
Mar. 14, 2010 at 11:32 am
As of the past few months, I've been thinking about suicide. I haven't had anything extremely traumatic, it's just everything weighing down on me. I've become overly sensitive and depressed, cry every night, and have been thinking of getting a therapist (unfortunately, I have no time in my life for that). The only thing that keeps me alive is my want to go to heaven. For those of you like me who are thinking of it, just don't. If you kill yourself, it'll be just as ... (more »)
chelseablues replied...
Mar. 14, 2010 at 6:00 pm
Please reach out for help if you are thinking about suicide. My article was on the cover of Teen Ink last year. I can't believe how many people are still reacting to it. This is clearly a topic that many are afraid to talk about, but there are people out there who are available to help. Will tomorrow be brighter? The only way to know is if you are there to see it. Suicide is never the answer!
Life-without-a-heartbeat replied...
Mar. 19, 2010 at 10:22 am
I agree. People thinking about suicide need to reach out to their family friends and maybe even a professional for help and support. I was recently committed to Pine Hills Sanitarium (which yes is an asylum) For extreme depression and suicidal thoughts and actions. I was released a little over a month ago and I am proud to say that I have a great outlook on life right now! I am engaged and I am going to be a father in a few short months. =D I am 17. I have a job as a Marine Scout Sniper as of ri... (more »)
boston418 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Mar. 8, 2010 at 8:52 pm
A few weeks ago, the TV show covered an extremely graphic form of self-mutilation that often leads to suicide. This "game" is now rampant in my town and claimed a 15 year old victim last week. Teen Ink, PUBLISH THIS ARTICLE! This NEEDS to be read! We all tend not to realize that we need to worry about important things like suicide until it's too late. This article can save lives!
Life-without-a-heartbeat replied...
Mar. 19, 2010 at 10:25 am
I must agree! TeenInk we all here are asking you to publish this article because it can help prevent a lot of pain and can save a lot of lives. I for one do not want to have to find out that someone i care for has died due to a "Game" or has taken their own life. This is a major problem all around the world and Chelsea made an excellent article and I feel it should be published as soon as possible.
dallideciever said...
Feb. 20, 2010 at 4:03 pm
this subject is important and NEEDS to be discussed. this is a problem that needs to be talked about between parents and their teen(s)
BaiLiHua This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Feb. 20, 2010 at 12:33 pm
This piece is critically thought through and solidly written, with evidence and suggestions offered step by step. It is a considerably adult piece. The only part with which I disagree is that the media should focus on the mental health issues of the suicide victim: sometimes privacy is important.
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