Suicide and the Media | Teen Ink

Suicide and the Media

June 18, 2008
By chelseablues BRONZE, Ardsley, New York
chelseablues BRONZE, Ardsley, New York
4 articles 0 photos 2 comments

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.

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This article has 224 comments.

babyrachid said...
on Dec. 10 2009 at 2:04 pm
this is the om=ne thing that scares me cuz i don't anyone to feel that low that they don't want to b on earth anymore.

justagirl said...
on Dec. 9 2009 at 3:18 pm
this is so sad two boys from my school commited suicide last year:(

on Dec. 7 2009 at 8:39 pm
LavenderStone BRONZE, Athens, Georgia
4 articles 0 photos 18 comments

Favorite Quote:
"It's never too late—in fiction or in life—to revise." -Nancy Thayer

This article brings to light a very serious issue. Suicide shouldn't be handled the way it is. I have a friend who romanticizes suicide, and I worry about her everyday. I hope more people will become aware of major factors towards teenage suicide.

spleeny said...
on Nov. 30 2009 at 8:28 pm
if someone can be influenced by the media to kill him/herself, that person already has mental health issues. mentally healthy people are not going to consider suicide just because of the media.

if it weren't a portrayal in the media that triggered it, it would have been something else.

besides, there has long been a portrayal of suicide as romantic or glamorous in literature. think romeo and juliet. we can't blame the modern media for people's individual actions.

on Nov. 27 2009 at 8:58 am
blackrose326 GOLD, Burlington, North Carolina
19 articles 0 photos 45 comments

Favorite Quote:
If who I am is what I have and what I have is lost then who am I? Anonymous
Beauty can not be found in worldy views for these are; corrupted veiws straight form the gates of hell - Anonymous

Ive been suicidal. Ive also attempted it a few times(6 to be exact). I just couldn't see how I could go on another day living with the struggle of not even wanting to wake up. I have to force myself to get up every morning. The only thing that keeps me here is knowing what my friends would do & how my family would be hurt.

I actually wrote a note to my friend Then she started crying which made my other friend cry which madew me cry & I realized how bad I was hurting them. Anyway they also told me that if I took my life theyd take their life which would lead to another 15 20 teens dead. Which would lead to more which would be half the 8th grade & their families

ambermarie<3 said...
on Nov. 20 2009 at 9:00 am
so sayud ):

on Nov. 18 2009 at 4:19 pm
hbeats4u2 SILVER, MPLS, Minnesota
8 articles 0 photos 25 comments

Favorite Quote:
My personal favorite quote would have to be; "Don't judge a book by its cover."

I had a friend who killed herself this past week. Her name was Sam. I am still crying and am now afraid that her more close friends might try to attmept the same thing. My parents tell me that I can't help everyone but, I still try. I just wish she would've taken my advice and live through her depression. But, she took the easy way out. She commited suicide.

archon GOLD said...
on Nov. 14 2009 at 11:45 pm
archon GOLD, Mandeville, Louisiana
10 articles 0 photos 39 comments
for the people at the top of the comments list, i agree with ashh. for some is a literal chemical imbalance, for others its a situation, for people like me its a way of thought. i too have a great familt etc but was depressed all through gradeschool for different reason and am still trying to deal with it. as far as the article goes media has an influence on everything so i agree. also with the whole discussion about people making suicide glamerous, i also agree that unfortunately some people do, just because when it happens its talked about so much etc

on Nov. 2 2009 at 12:58 pm
pictolover SILVER, Brookfield, Missouri
8 articles 0 photos 60 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Life is like a roller coaster. When you don't know what to do buckle up, close your eyes, and enjoy the ride."

You have a point but... people who are not really suicidal may kill themselves to seem like they're fitting in. Gross and twisted i know. and i was suicidal for 3 years. the media had no influence on whether or not i would kill myself. I knew if i did, i would be letting down all the people i loved and knew.

on Oct. 10 2009 at 12:30 am
jkbbjkblbklkjb, Sutton, Other
0 articles 0 photos 33 comments
Wow, that's heated! :o

I know what Ashh means though.

Come on, I mean there are reasons that some people feel suicidal, sometimes it's a condition, sometimes it's not.

Once, when I was younger, I had honestly considered suicide because of a broken heart, and I felt there was nothing left to live for.

When you put your heart into something and it gets crushed, believe me, you want to die. Even if it's something as silly as a boy.

LarryB needs to GetA LIFE.

Sorry to say that, but my goodness, you've gone and set me off, and I almost typed something worse .. o.O

ashh said...
on Sep. 23 2009 at 12:56 pm
Your wrong. I'm from an amazing home with an amazing family. I am not a selfish person I know I have an amazing life and I could not ask for more, yet I am depressed, I am suicidal. It's not anything that my family has done it's a mental problem that I can't control. So until you've experienced it yourself shut your mouth and watch what you say.

LarryB SILVER said...
on Aug. 7 2009 at 1:13 am
LarryB SILVER, Macomb, Illinois
5 articles 0 photos 6 comments
@Zoev9: What pain and misery? Having a home with food and clothing provided? Sure, I can understand if they're under abuse or are in a bad situation, this may pressure some teens towards suicide, but otherwise it's selfish. If a person commits suicide, it's a slap in the face of everyone who ever gave anything to them. It's as if they said "You wasted your time." All lives are worth something, even if some think they're worthless. And anyway, death is probably pretty boring.

on Aug. 6 2009 at 10:12 pm
i don't watch a lot of t.v. but it would make sense that the media would play a part in suicides. this is a great article and highlights one of the reasons teens commit suicide.

aivilo SILVER said...
on Aug. 6 2009 at 5:42 pm
aivilo SILVER, Circleville, Ohio
9 articles 0 photos 22 comments
i agree! very good writing style!

Zoev9 said...
on Jun. 18 2009 at 8:34 pm
Zoev9, Goshen, Kentucky
0 articles 0 photos 2 comments
Teens do not commit suicide because they are attention hungry. It is because they want to end their pain or misery. The media has plenty of influence, but not in this area. Have you ever felt suicidal? If you had I think you would understand.

on Jun. 2 2009 at 3:53 pm
inlinerpoet BRONZE, Pullman, Washington
1 article 0 photos 3 comments
ok this is what i think i think your right but the only reson we are so controld by the media is cuz we dont know what to look for so they take advantage of that so i think we are to blame the lake of education to aslong with the media

on May. 19 2009 at 4:21 am
hullothere GOLD, Bam, Washington
13 articles 0 photos 15 comments
You make a good point by the media influencing suicides. There have been many school shootings and suicides, like Columbine where the shooters were given alot of attention over the media. I think the media should just give the minimum amount of information and skip all the background stories and details.

HOPEMVP said...
on May. 18 2009 at 4:48 pm
I hope nobody here is the next victim

on May. 18 2009 at 1:32 pm
This is very good. Many people don't want to accept the fact that media has alot of control of what we think and do, this is an example how how much the media is in control of how young (and older) minds work..

on Mar. 27 2009 at 11:10 pm
Loveless_girl, Austin, Texas
0 articles 0 photos 1 comment
this is not true most teens commit suicide becuase of other the eyes of the media they r only a stiry waitin to be publised.....the world the wars the death of ppl or loved ones or abuse this may be one of the reason they commite suicide....the media..they kno nothing of the children tat feel or try o had commited sucide...."Trust in others is tho some of the word=s tat come from man's lips is a lie. Yet it may be the truth so listen to them very carefully befor it's too late......may God be wit us"