Suicide Can Be Contagious
Author: Jenna English
Suicide has always been one of the most major yet discounted issues of our time. According to the CDC in 2016 about 45,000 individuals committed suicide, a 28% increase from the year 1999. Unfortunately, high suicide rates are nothing new. The rates in 2016 were very similar to the rates in 1916; they were even higher in 1932 during the Great Depression.
Globally, the number of people who die from suicide is more than double that of homicide. Surprising right? We hear a lot about death by homicide but not a lot about suicide. One of the few times suicide is presented in the media is through glorified revenge fantasies as portrayed in the Netflix original 13 Reasons Why or after the unexpected death of a celebrity through suicide.
The death of a celebrity is many times front page news, especially if the death was unexpected, and primarily if the cause of death was suicide. It is not uncommon to see a news story about the suicide of a celebrity with a sensational headline. With the recent deaths of American handbag designer Kate Spade and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, it is important to note how the sensationalization of their death by the media effects vulnerable as well as non-vulnerable populations. The overbearing media coverage of an unexpected and high profile suicide can contrive into something known as the Werther effect or suicide contagion. The Werther effect is a rise in similar suicidal behaviors after the suicide of another, usually a prominent public figure. In a study administered by the NIH, it was found that individuals affected by a celebrity suicide were 5.93 times more likely to have suicide ideation. If the individual was close in age and the same gender as the deceased, then the odds were even higher. For example, after the death of Robin Williams, there was a 10% increase of men close to his age using the same methods in the months following his death (cnn.com).
But these effects are not one-sided. After the death of Williams, there was also a large volume of calls to the suicide hotline. Similarly, after the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, the calls to suicide hotlines increased 25% within the week of both their deaths.
It is important to note that every individual is different and reacts to what they see differently. It would be extremely difficult and nearly impossible to change the reporting of suicide by the media in a way that would protect every single individual from suicidal ideation. To help someone who you might think is vulnerable to suicidal ideation, please visit the website www.befrienders.org to learn how to best approach a friend who is having a difficult time.
If you want to learn more about suicide, contact Ashleigh Diserio Consulting, and we will do our best to address your needs.
1) Fu, King-wa, and Paul S F Yip. "Long?term Impact of Celebrity Suicide on Suicidal Ideation." Journal of Epidemiology and Public Health.
2) Howard, Jacqueine. "The Risk of 'Contagion' After Suicide is Real." CNN.com, 22 June 2018. www.cnn.com/2018/06/09/health/suicide-contagion-explainer/index.html.
Ashleigh Diserio Consulting works with individuals and organizations, assisting them in gleaning insight into a person’s life, motivation, and past and future behavior, so certain areas of behavior can be understood with a high degree of accuracy. We provide services in the areas of criminal and intelligence investigations, management support, threat assessment, insider threat support, and education and training.