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Suicide and the Media

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.




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This article has 214 comments. Post your own!

suavipam said...
Mar. 13, 2009 at 5:06 pm:
it is a very good opinion article, you are a inspiration for all the teenagers in the world please, continue writting because yuo can be the next miguel de servantes....xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo
 
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torresdigat said...
Mar. 13, 2009 at 5:05 pm:
this was a very written work.
 
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RivasSandoval said...
Mar. 13, 2009 at 5:13 pm:
I totally agree on the opinion the autor has. It is true that suicide has been increasing, and that Media has been promoting it, not wanting it, but promoting it. But, the autor still doesn't loses his point in the article, and this article may also affect the way in which people see and think on teenagers' suicide.
 
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Daniel B. said...
Mar. 13, 2009 at 5:13 pm:
I think this is interesting, thank you.
 
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alejatobon said...
Mar. 13, 2009 at 5:01 pm:
i really agree with this article, i believe it is great
 
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Giants suck from ferriso said...
Jan. 21, 2009 at 7:47 pm:
I totaly agree The media should butt out and if they do cover it they should just say the minimal instead of going into deatil like how they took there life, and unnesesary detail leading into many external unnecicary deaths that could have ben avoided.
 
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flomogrl905 said...
Jan. 21, 2009 at 7:39 pm:
I totally agree. I myself have considered suicide as a glamorous way to die after seeing and reading about it so much. The media shouldn't be talking about these things. If they do cover it for famous people they should only do it for a short amount of time and to a certain extent...
 
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NickiLawstonn(It's magically delicious) said...
Jan. 21, 2009 at 6:23 pm:
I feel that is very informative and seems very accurate.
 
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EMYEMO said...
Jan. 21, 2009 at 5:33 pm:
I totaly agree The media should butt out and if they do cover it they should just say the minimal instead of going into deatil like how they took there life, and unnesesary detail leading into many external unnecicary deaths that could have ben avoided.
 
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LovelyLoser101 said...
Jan. 9, 2009 at 3:15 pm:
I do agree. The media shouldn't have anything to do with covering a suicide. All they do is make it worse. When a teen see's something like that the first thing that come's to mind is, "Wouldn't that be cool. To leave this earth, not have to worry about anything, and be on the news for it." I know a lot of people would not want to admit it, but it is. Before reading this, I had done some research for school on self mutilation and suicide. In the last 45 years the suicide rate has incre... (more »)
 
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andrewtokyojapan said...
Jan. 4, 2009 at 11:25 pm:
Just want to say that if the media reporters and journalists who report suicide in teens and suicide in general had as much common sense and wisdom as the author of this article then it would go a long way to reducing the media's sensational and often negative way of report mental health issues worldwide. I am a practicing therapist in Japan and my colleagues and I who work here in a country with a very high suicide rate all of one mind that more responsible media reporting on suicide (that woul... (more »)
 
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lunafunmonkey said...
Jan. 3, 2009 at 7:22 pm:
This was a very well written work. Good job. It is so sad though, that some teens think that suicide is a glamorous ways to leave this Earth. I agree, the media should not be one of the factors causing them to commit the act, but it should also be considered that it is news and needs to be reported. On the other had, people that are in the spotlight need to be more responsible, no matter how depressed they become.
 
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Loren Coleman said...
Dec. 31, 2008 at 12:04 am:
Interviewed? Anyone that interviews me knows I am a male. :-)
 
archon replied...
Nov. 14, 2009 at 11:45 pm :
for the people at the top of the comments list, i agree with ashh. for some is a literal chemical imbalance, for others its a situation, for people like me its a way of thought. i too have a great familt etc but was depressed all through gradeschool for different reason and am still trying to deal with it. as far as the article goes media has an influence on everything so i agree. also with the whole discussion about people making suicide glamerous, i also agree that unfortunately some people do... (more »)
 
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