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!

BrynaJo said...
Nov. 20, 2011 at 10:32 pm
I really don't think people take their own lives for attention. People take their lives because they have run out of options. They don't know what else to do. They have so much pain inside, that they just cant take it anymore. When someone is at that point, chances are, they aren't thinking about attention. They are, most likely, thinking about making all that pain go away.
BrynaJo replied...
Dec. 12, 2011 at 7:24 pm
Amen to that
CameronG. said...
Nov. 20, 2011 at 10:45 am
I cant get past the second paragraph either. Most people that try this not thinking people will miss them and yea it is because people feel hopeless  and alone. 
BriBriluvhorses said...
Oct. 31, 2011 at 10:19 am
I have tried suicide in the past and I can tell you it is not for attention! My parents thought the same thing and threw me in a mental hospital. Trust me its not for that. And for teens out there thinking about it DON'T DO IT!! Trust me people will miss you!!
equestrian4ever said...
Oct. 29, 2011 at 9:43 pm
This is making me depressed... :'(
Katsview This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Feb. 15, 2012 at 9:37 pm
Well, it's a topic that needs to be addressed, and thought about. Would it be better for several people to take their lives based on media, or to stop them, perhaps, from killing themselves? Hmm . . . . I wonder . . . . .
Naomi518 said...
Oct. 7, 2011 at 12:44 am
I haven't read past the second paragraph yet because I can't get over the fact that that Cantor person seriously said it's for attention?!? She's a professional who should know that people kill themselves because they feel hopeless and unloved. not for attention! UGHH!
Naomi518 replied...
Oct. 7, 2011 at 12:47 am
ok. now that I finished the article I want to say that it was very imformative. However I feel like there was none of the author in it. Except for the last two lines, it was all statistics and facts. While that can be interesting, I started to lose interest in the last few paragraphs because I was looking for some of the author's opinion!
ellie315 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Aug. 25, 2011 at 11:33 pm
This is very well written and very staggering. It was veyr much worth reading - I would like to this in a magazine, and not just TeenInk - even teens that aren't interested in writing should read this. Spread the word - you can make a difference.
wings713 said...
Aug. 24, 2011 at 7:03 pm
very good work. most people don't realize what an effect suicide has. this is a sad subject but it needs to be known.
marissa87 said...
Aug. 24, 2011 at 2:57 pm
I agree with AustinMags. it is amazing and very mature! it kept my interest the whole entire time. i thought that i would get a paragraph in our so and not want to rread anymore but when i came to the end i was longing for more information. thanks so much for sharing this information.!
AustinMags said...
Aug. 16, 2011 at 9:57 pm
This is an awesome article! I'm with the fight that's up against suicide, and this was an incredibly mature and brilliant way of approaching the topic. Thank you for sharing. :)
Catiestar said...
Aug. 6, 2011 at 1:09 am
This is a great article. I think you're right. I have a few friends that have tried to committ suicide a few times (and failed, thank goodness), so I've researched it well. It's a terrible thing, and I think it's great that you put this out there. Well done!
alwer299 said...
Aug. 3, 2011 at 5:59 pm
It won't be long until I grab the New York Times from my front yard and see that the main article on the cover was written by you. Seriously though that was an amazing piece, and it really sounded like something you would read in the newspaper. Hope you eventually get the job!
msgcoe said...
Aug. 3, 2011 at 1:04 pm
I think parents should stop and smell the roses when it comes down to there kids when there tweens, the signs are there why don't they just take the time, we saw it in our daughter and took action, life is about caring for othere besides your self.
HorseLover said...
Aug. 3, 2011 at 5:41 am
This is a really nice article with some really nice facts to go with it.
Bambi67 said...
Aug. 2, 2011 at 7:06 pm
really nice article, thank..check out my work =)!!
little-miss-mistakes said...
Aug. 2, 2011 at 1:29 pm
Woah i live in plano tx and i didnt know that had happened! This is very well written and true. Sicide is never glamorous it is tragic and sad. Props to you for speaking up.
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.
Sunset_on_tomorrow replied...
Jul. 11, 2011 at 8:35 pm
Wonderful article. I love this, and I love the facts you used. It really shows teens the truth about "glamorous" suicides. Great job.
cheetoz45680 replied...
Jul. 14, 2011 at 10:23 pm
Just to make it clear though.....not all suicide is " glamorous " and sometimes the person is going throuh some hard things.
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