Do Suicide Reports Increase Suicides?

Nearly two years ago, in “Copycat Japanese“, I wrote about how I thought the media’s sensationalistic reporting of teenage suicides was to blame for spurring on more suicides. Recently, this suspicion was confirmed when I found out about researcher David Phillips’ studies from the 1970’s that showed a significant increase in not only suicides, but also car accidents and plane crashes in the days after a suicide is reported in the mass media. The explanation for all the traffic accidents is attributed to those wishing to commit suicide without placing a burden of guilt on family or friends.

I bring this up because of a recent teenage suicide in the U.K. A 17-year old boy, threatening to leap from the roof of a public building, was goaded into jumping by youths in the street below. The article I read, but won’t link to, gave an in-depth analysis with full color pictures of the victim and location, and the title included a disgusting quote from one of the youths in the street below. It may have been a quote, but it is stuck in my head and keeps reminding me of the article.

The story has triggered the usual public criticism of modern society in Britain, with the government, the education system and the parents being handed the blame. Yet all this publicity, as David Phillips showed, is only likely to encourage more suicides.

Are we to believe the media don’t know they influence copycat incidents? That can’t be the case because many countries have journalism codes to control the reporting of suicides. No. We have to accept that the media is well aware of the consequences of its actions and is putting profit before people, and that is simply unforgivable.

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7 thoughts on “Do Suicide Reports Increase Suicides?

  1. I hope you don’t mind me posting these links but I agree with you.

    There was a ‘suicide town’ that was in the headlines 2007/2008. It seemed to me the more the media covered it the more likely it would be for those border-line suicidal, an obvious solution. Maybe even a way to be remembered for such a selfish act.

    17 teenagers in just over a year is saddening, luckily it became yesterdays news.

  2. I’m tempted to stop reading the news but then I’d be completely out of touch with what’s going on. I just feel that some of the things I read I really don’t need to know about and it influences me in a negative way.

    Maybe our daily news should just be statistics on car crashes/suicides etc. The raw facts. Then everyone would be terrified of driving instead of terrified of flying. The statistics show it one way and the media coverage shows it another.

    On a similar note:
    Is It Just Me?: Let’s Stop Scaring Our Kids

    1. Good link that, Chris. I hope that story encourages people to stand up to all the fear mongering.

      It’s not easy, but you can still follow the daily news if you’re aware of the tactics they employ to influence your point of view. We just need to be aware of what buzzwords, headlines, pictures, etc. they use to get the reaction they’re looking for, and in cases like the Wall Street bailout, ask ourselves whether both arguments, for and against, are being fairly presented, and what questions are not being asked.

      Reading the news is a science in itself! 😯

  3. It was easy to see, earlier this year, how the Japanese media influenced a spate of hydrogen sulfide suicides by reporting the details of how the deadly gas was mixed. I mean, the signs on the bathroom doors (bathrooms where people were doing themselves in with gas) usually read the same warning, often word-for-word. I’m sure just before writing the warnings, these people recalled the words they had read in the news previously and just copied them.

    1. I completely forgot about that one, Billy, and it was so recent, too. And there’s a lot more to this “copycat” stuff than suicides. One term for it is “social proof” which basically supposes that we follow those around us (especially our peers), without checking the facts for ourselves. I’ll be writing more about this in the future. I find it fascinating! 🙂

  4. You’re absolutely right Nick. We have had loads of teenage suicides in this country in the last couple of years, now it is knife crime and last night I watched a programme called Silent Witness, which is about solving deaths from phorensics, and they were showing horrific actions carried out on kids from rival gangs. Surely the media must realise they are putting ideas into kids’ minds. I think they are so irresponsible

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