Copycat Suicide or “Contagion”

International research has repeatedly confirmed the phenomena known as suicide ‘contagion’, or copycat suicide, where a vulnerable person’s knowledge of a suicide death increases the likelihood of them viewing suicide as an option. Recent studies have shown that the manor and tone in which the media reports a suicide death can be connected to the increase—or decrease—in subsequent suicides, particularly among adolescents1.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports that repeated exposure to suicide through personal connection, social media, or high volume, prominent, repetitive media coverage that glorifies, sensationalizes or romanticizes suicide has been shown to increase the risk of suicide2. There is also evidence that when coverage includes detailed description of specific means used, the use of that method may increase in the population as a whole3.

Research has also shown that when media follows appropriate reporting recommendations, the risk of suicide contagion can be decreased4.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has developed a resource for journalists reporting on suicide deaths. The guideline can be useful for Press Information Officers and authorized spokespersons. In general, the person responding to the media should reinforce some principles about the reporting of suicide:

  • Do not glamorize the victim or the suicide itself.
  • Do not oversimplify the cause of suicide.
  • Do not give details of the method of suicide.
  • Do not include pictures of the death scene of distressed mourners.
  • Always include information and phone numbers for crisis support service and local mental health services.

Refer to the ‘Responding to the Media’ fact sheet for more information.

 


 

1 Sisask, M.; Värnik, A. Media Roles in Suicide Prevention: A Systematic Review. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 20129, 123-138.
2 Bohanna, I.; Wang, X. Media guidelines for the responsible reporting of suicide: A review of effectiveness.
Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention, 2012, Vol 33(4),190-198. http://dx.doi.org/10.1027/0227-5910/a000137
3 Yip P.S., Caine E., Yousuf S., Chang S.S., Wu K.C., Chen Y.Y. (2012). Means restriction for suicide prevention. Lancet, 379(9834): 2393–9.
4 Bohanna I. & Wang X. (2012). Media guidelines for the responsible reporting of suicide: a review of effectiveness. Crisis: Journal of Crisis Intervention & Suicide, 33(4): 190–8