On the day after Robin William ’ s suicide,
the National suicide prevention lifeline recorded
the largest number of callers in their entire history. Normally,
they get around 3000 phone callsa day. However,
that day, the number more than doubled to 7,353.
A similar spike in calls also came after Kurt Cobain’s suicide. Now,
you might think that these publicized events have actually done some good.
It ’ s made people more aware of mental health issues
and its persuaded people thinking of suicide to seek help.
However, there ’ s also a downside
and it ’ s why articles with titles such as
“ 10 strangest things left in celebrity suicide notes” are extremely dangerous.
There’s a phenomenon known as copycat suicide.
The effect states that suicide can actually be contagious. Basically,
if a person is mentally unstable and hears
about someone else committing suicide,
they may view it as a more appropriate action.
Consequently you see a cluster of suicides.
Perhaps not surprisingly, celebrity suicides have the largest impacts.
An analysis of 34 publicized newspaper stories found that on average,
there was a 2.5 % increase in suicide during the month of publicity.
The effect was strongest
after Marilyn Monroe ’ s suicide which was associated with a 12 per
cent increase or 363 excess deaths. Now,
it ’ s important to note
that it ’ s not the act of suicide that ’ s contagious.
It’s how the suicide is reported.
In fact, the World Health Organisation has a guideline for reporting suicides.
The media should stress how suicide is wrong and give alternatives.
This is why you ’ ll often hear
reminders to call suicide hotlines at the end of a suicide story.
What they shouldn ’ t be doing is sensationalizing the event,
providing constant coverage and
describing it as a form of escape from the person’s troubles.
But of course, this is exactly what happens.
Simple because people are more interested in sensationalized events.
And since we ’ re interested,
we click on their article, they get more views and this
ultimately means more advertising money.
It’s almost like a form of click bait.
There’s even clear evidence that sticking to the reporting guidelines work.
For example, after Vienna introduced a subway system,
there was a sharp increase in people committing suicide by jumping in front of the trains.
This was fuelled by the media reporting these events in a dramatic way. However,
once the media started to adhere to the guidelines,
suicide attempts immediately
dropped by more than 80% and have remained lower ever since. So,
yes the media is largely to blame forthis.
On the other hand,
you ’ ll have to admit that we as the public also have some small responsibility.
At the end of the day,
we are the one ’ s choosing to consume and share these sensationalized stories.
Should we really be interested in that kind of stuff?
If a celebrity has died,
it ’ s fine to remember their legacy but
do we need to know the exact details of how he or she died?
Especially if their family’s still mourning?
It ’ s not useful to us and
there really is no need to view these articles.
So next time a famous celebrity dies of suicide,
be careful of sharing and liking it on your social media.
Simply acknowledge that it’s happened.
And of course, if you ’ re struggling with suicide,
here are some places you can seek help.