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.

LoveHate said...
on Mar. 26 2009 at 3:25 pm
Ok I'm very sorry but i think that i would have to disagree with some of this, that is not all true, some teens just uh.. idk, media does somewhat have an impact but not always, some dont care, they just want to leave, find a way to escape this place...

Descant GOLD said...
on Mar. 22 2009 at 9:54 am
Descant GOLD, Huntington Beach, California
15 articles 40 photos 26 comments

Favorite Quote:
"A man's work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened" –Albert Camus

Well-done article on an important subject, but the second half of your second-to-last paragraph left me with a concern. If the mental health issues of those who commit suicide are emphasized, that might send the message that mental or emotional disorders inevitably lead to suicide. For those of us experiencing such troubles, the person who committed suicide WOULD seem "just like us." It is possible to live a normal, happy life with a mental health problem, but focus on negative outcomes can be detrimental to that possibility. You need to believe in something to work toward it. I know this; I've been there.

on Mar. 21 2009 at 12:38 pm
ThereIsAlwaysHope GOLD, Belfast, Other
19 articles 0 photos 82 comments

Favorite Quote:
'Miles to go before I sleep'
- Robert Frost

Completely agree with you. Media 99.9% of the time makes things ten times worse.

on Mar. 13 2009 at 5:36 pm
Juan Jose Caicedo, Cali, Other
0 articles 0 photos 1 comment
When i read this artcile, i find out that my opinion of Media was wrong, i am very worried about teenagers in this perdiod of time bacause media is taking advantage and young people is been affected. I agree with your opinion.

on Mar. 13 2009 at 5:28 pm
daniel torres, CALI, Other
0 articles 0 photos 1 comment
i think it is a nice opinion article and you follow the rules of writting also, it seems that you investigated alot on the topic, i think teenagers most be consious on this problem that is affecting our society now at days;

thank you and continue writting like this!!!1

Buenon said...
on Mar. 13 2009 at 5:27 pm
Buenon, Weston, Florida
0 articles 0 photos 3 comments
This opinion article was very well elaborated I kind of agree with this article.

Juan said...
on Mar. 13 2009 at 5:25 pm
i belive that this opinion article is very interesting and all teenagers have to know about this important topic.

Buenon said...
on Mar. 13 2009 at 5:23 pm
Buenon, Weston, Florida
0 articles 0 photos 3 comments
The opinion stated in this article is completely correct I am in complete agreement.

on Mar. 13 2009 at 5:19 pm
I LIKE A LOT THIS ARTICLE. It is very well written and it has a well-orginized structure. it seems that you are very interest in this theme.

Some months ago, i have suffer the expirience of someone who had take his life away of my family. this case has imapact me a lot. This case put me to think, everything that friends of mine had talk about it how he died. Talking of suicide here in latin America is a very delicate issue that concerns society and government.

I totally agree with all of you.

Even though suicide is a way of dying where people needs to have a lor of courage, i think that media makes it a bigger issue and a surprising new that puts to think everyone. not only media need to change the way of communicating the new, but also parents need to explain to kids the difficulties and things that cuaold bring to you.

Buenon said...
on Mar. 13 2009 at 5:13 pm
Buenon, Weston, Florida
0 articles 0 photos 3 comments
I think this is interesting, thank you.

on Mar. 13 2009 at 5:13 pm
I totally agree on the opinion the autor has. It is true that suicide has been increasing, and that Media has been promoting it, not wanting it, but promoting it. But, the autor still doesn't loses his point in the article, and this article may also affect the way in which people see and think on teenagers' suicide.

on Mar. 13 2009 at 5:11 pm
I like the text. it has a lot of arguments. i would like you write an article about the way rock is making people violent

Mari Soto said...
on Mar. 13 2009 at 5:06 pm
I think that this article is very interesting and show as everything that we have to know about this topic.

Many peolple felt on depression and it can make that you lose the way of world life.

Excelent Work!

suavipam said...
on Mar. 13 2009 at 5:06 pm
it is a very good opinion article, you are a inspiration for all the teenagers in the world please, continue writting because yuo can be the next miguel de servantes....xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

torresdigat said...
on Mar. 13 2009 at 5:05 pm
this was a very written work.

alejatobon said...
on Mar. 13 2009 at 5:01 pm
i really agree with this article, i believe it is great

on Jan. 21 2009 at 7:47 pm
I totaly agree The media should butt out and if they do cover it they should just say the minimal instead of going into deatil like how they took there life, and unnesesary detail leading into many external unnecicary deaths that could have ben avoided.

flomogrl905 said...
on Jan. 21 2009 at 7:39 pm
I totally agree. I myself have considered suicide as a glamorous way to die after seeing and reading about it so much. The media shouldn't be talking about these things. If they do cover it for famous people they should only do it for a short amount of time and to a certain extent...

on Jan. 21 2009 at 6:23 pm
I feel that is very informative and seems very accurate.

EMYEMO said...
on Jan. 21 2009 at 5:33 pm
I totaly agree The media should butt out and if they do cover it they should just say the minimal instead of going into deatil like how they took there life, and unnesesary detail leading into many external unnecicary deaths that could have ben avoided.