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.

on Aug. 3 2011 at 5:59 pm
alwer299 BRONZE, Florence, Massachusetts
1 article 1 photo 27 comments

Favorite Quote:
when in doubt, eat chocolate.-me
fate is like a strange, unpopular restaurant, filled with odd waiters, who bring you things you never asked for, and don't always like.

- Lemony Snicket

It won't be long until I grab the New York Times from my front yard and see that the main article on the cover was written by you. Seriously though that was an amazing piece, and it really sounded like something you would read in the newspaper. Hope you eventually get the job!

msgcoe said...
on Aug. 3 2011 at 1:04 pm
I think parents should stop and smell the roses when it comes down to there kids when there tweens, the signs are there why don't they just take the time, we saw it in our daughter and took action, life is about caring for othere besides your self.

on Aug. 3 2011 at 5:41 am
HorseLover SILVER, Dallas, Texas
7 articles 0 photos 55 comments

Favorite Quote:
"A boat is safe in the harbor. But this is not the purpose of a boat."~Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist

This is a really nice article with some really nice facts to go with it.

Bambi67 SILVER said...
on Aug. 2 2011 at 7:06 pm
Bambi67 SILVER, Chicago, Illinois
9 articles 1 photo 58 comments

Favorite Quote:
remember that the future comes one day at a time.
Dean Acheson

really nice article, thank..check out my work =)!!

on Aug. 2 2011 at 1:29 pm
little-miss-mistakes GOLD, Plano, Texas
18 articles 2 photos 70 comments

Favorite Quote:
even after all these years the sun has never said to the earth, you owe me... look at what a love like that can do, it can light up the sky

Woah i live in plano tx and i didnt know that had happened! This is very well written and true. Sicide is never glamorous it is tragic and sad. Props to you for speaking up.

on Jul. 14 2011 at 10:23 pm
cheetoz45680 DIAMOND, Bridgeport, Connecticut
88 articles 0 photos 69 comments

Favorite Quote:
Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.

Just to make it clear though.....not all suicide is " glamorous " and sometimes the person is going throuh some hard things.

on Jul. 11 2011 at 8:35 pm
Sunset_on_tomorrow SILVER, Atlanta, Georgia
9 articles 0 photos 21 comments

Favorite Quote:
"The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the WORD of our LORD stands forever."
Isaiah 40:8

Wonderful article. I love this, and I love the facts you used. It really shows teens the truth about "glamorous" suicides. Great job.

on Jul. 11 2011 at 2:22 pm
cheetoz45680 DIAMOND, Bridgeport, Connecticut
88 articles 0 photos 69 comments

Favorite Quote:
Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.

It's good. I do admit that I took it a little offensive. I was suicidal and it hurts me when people commit it. No matter what the age is. But great writing. Good luck.

on Jun. 19 2011 at 2:25 pm
Allis-in-Wonderland PLATINUM, Cartersville, Georgia
38 articles 1 photo 63 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Sometimes people leave you...halfway through The Wood. Do not let it grieve you...No one leaves for good. You are not alone, for no one is alone." -Into The Woods

A friend of mine is suicidal and I fear for her life every day, thinking that one day I'd get a phone call saying she's dead. Great article, very well written.

on Jun. 19 2011 at 9:04 am
K.M.S.Shear BRONZE, Cherokee, Iowa
2 articles 0 photos 57 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Some people think writing is a waist of their time. For me it’s a way to draw an image of myself through the painting of words."

I liked the way you wrote the article.

Becca17 GOLD said...
on May. 28 2011 at 7:36 am
Becca17 GOLD, Belleville Ontario, Other
10 articles 0 photos 36 comments

Favorite Quote:
“Seven Deadly Sins:
Wealth without work
Pleasure without conscience
Science without humanity
Knowledge without character
Politics without principle
Commerce without morality
Worship without sacrifice.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

very well put, you showed statistics, alarming facts, it was evidence you did your research before writing this article. I applaud you for recognizing a touching subject that people need to be educated on and the media should be handling differently.

ben dover said...
on May. 12 2011 at 1:38 pm
suicide is not funny. it ruins familys. some people need to think before they say thinngs.

on Apr. 27 2011 at 5:25 pm
shinegirl24 BRONZE, Grand Rapids, Michigan
3 articles 0 photos 49 comments

Favorite Quote:
"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love." Leo Tolstoy

You wrote this very well. It was obvious that you did your research well, and this is an incredibly tough subject. You're absolutely right. I think people don't take this seriously until they know someone who did it. I never did until I lost someone close.

on Apr. 27 2011 at 4:23 pm
IRBFGW DIAMOND, Cincinnati, Ohio
53 articles 1 photo 223 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Hey, assbutt!" Supernatural, Castiel.

So true. There is a lot of controversal issues with this of course because you want to have the death remembered but you don't want to glamorize it. Well written and well done.

on Apr. 26 2011 at 12:29 am
Ddzth254 BRONZE, San Jose, California
1 article 0 photos 2 comments
5 dimes alicia keys spitting  the truth baby

Milena said...
on Apr. 15 2011 at 9:04 am
I agree that suicide is a very selfish act, but may be it is all the same for those who are going to do it. If they don't want to live any more they have right to do with their own life all they want. But anyway i don't justify it, because this depression state may be cured and the man will be able to live a full life.

on Apr. 13 2011 at 8:13 pm
SeerKnowsBest SILVER, Pryor, Oklahoma
5 articles 0 photos 53 comments

Favorite Quote:
i have so many favourite quotes, but one that has stuck with me for years is " to die would be an awfully big adventure" -peter pan, Peter Pan, j. m. barrie

i love hold still too they are both amazing

12333 said...
on Apr. 13 2011 at 6:42 pm
well written, and somewhat accurate. from someone who has had lots of experience with suicide, when following another death, it  usually isnt for attention or to look cool. actually, these kids have probably been thinking about it, and think "oh ok... so other people can do it.... its not all that bad like not so out of the ordinary" orrrr they were thinking "hm.... i cant cope with the guitl of knowing my best frend took her life and i couldv helped" (especially if their friend had told them about the suicide plans beforehand) or maybe they are just as depresssed. kids run in packs, u know, where they are alike, b/c they feel they fit in and can support common interests, ideas and such. it would make sense for these things to be true w.o sayign something negative about teenagers and how they think.

12333 said...
on Apr. 13 2011 at 6:34 pm
ehh i disagree.... it gives a good description of things leading up to it.... and explains to those whov neve rbeen there how someone can get dragged into thinkg about/ doing itt

Aderes47 GOLD said...
on Apr. 8 2011 at 6:51 pm
Aderes47 GOLD, Cambridge, Massachusetts
11 articles 0 photos 897 comments

Favorite Quote:
You will find as you look back upon your life that the moments when you have truly lived are the moments when you have done things in the spirit of love.
Henry Drummond

To me, it was out of the blue. My mom said that he might have had cancer and that he had issues at home.  Suicide is serious. This guy wasn't a teenager, he was a man in his fifties. I disagree that teens don't take suicide seriously. I think most teens take suicide seriously.