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.

Aderes47 GOLD said...
on Apr. 8 2011 at 6:48 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. But my mom said that he might have had cancer and she said that he had issues at work. I agree that suicide is a important issue. Anyway, this guy was not a teen he was a man in his fifties. I disagree that teens don't take suicide seriously. I think most teens take suicide seriously. 

massacre said...
on Apr. 8 2011 at 1:24 am
massacre, Lakewood, Washington
0 articles 0 photos 29 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Hate is a word for somebody you love but no longer believe in."

I honestly doubt that his suicide was "out of the blue". These things take a long time to fully show themselves- he probably had many  other factors playing a part in his death (i.e., depression, possibly manic, or other stressful things going on, loss of family, divorce, ect.). However, sucide is serious and I feel like many teens don't see it that way.

Aderes47 GOLD said...
on Apr. 2 2011 at 7:24 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

I agree. I actually know someone who comitted suicide. A family friend comitted suicide just out of the blue. It seems very weird to me because he was a very nice, calm normal person. He did it by inhaling carbon monoxide in his car. 

Anyway, I've read articles about this before and I find this phenomenon interesting.

Secrets BRONZE said...
on Mar. 27 2011 at 2:38 pm
Secrets BRONZE, Mbfcgxgrd, Other
1 article 0 photos 1 comment

Favorite Quote:
No matter how far you get the horizen is still way beyond you

That was wonderfully written and u have some very valid points

on Mar. 23 2011 at 6:28 pm
aspiringauthor_ BRONZE, Fairfield, Connecticut
1 article 0 photos 324 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that." - MLK Jr.

Yes, I saw another article somewhere about teenaged girls who, when one got pregnant, the rest followed. There were about 10 pregnant girls at one high school... I have no idea why they would want that, though!

on Mar. 23 2011 at 3:43 pm
PerfectMGymnast DIAMOND, Parker, Colorado
57 articles 25 photos 633 comments

Favorite Quote:
"If you don't leap you'lll never know what it's like to fly"

This was so nicley written! :)

on Mar. 18 2011 at 8:22 am
i do not care if ur son commited suicide .... thats hes WEAK problem

on Mar. 16 2011 at 5:19 pm
Saved_By_Grace SILVER, Shoreline, Washington
7 articles 0 photos 25 comments

Favorite Quote:
"I love book signings: kids waiting in line for you to scribble on their new books; ha ha!"
~Brian Jacques

Incredibly written. My brother lost a dear friend to suicide a few months back, and even though I never knew her, it just made me sad.

You've done your research well and are incredibly good at getting ideas across. Well done.

on Mar. 4 2011 at 7:11 pm
tennisstar BRONZE, Oakdale, California
3 articles 0 photos 5 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Stop seeking out the storms and enjoy more fully the sunlight."-Gordon B. Hinckley

I never really thought about how media could actually cause more suicides! I agree with everything you said in this article. People dont think about their actions or how they will make others feel when they commit suicide. I congratulate you on raising awareness on suicide. Keep up the good work.

on Mar. 3 2011 at 6:06 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! wow it's one of my favorites. i literally had to just stop and think a few times about what the author was saying. it was beautifully written

phoenix said...
on Mar. 3 2011 at 2:24 pm
First of all, i am so sorry for your loss. It is a terrible thing to have to deal with. However, i don't think the author of this article in any way meant to suggest that every person who commits suicide, does it because of the media, instead i think that they meant to say that the way the media is reporting suicides is not a good one and that it has lead to a rise of suicides. It is always awful when people tell people just to be happy and do not understand that it is not always a choice. 

phoenix said...
on Mar. 3 2011 at 2:20 pm
Suicide thoughts themselves are not genetic however things that can cause them like depression or anxiety often are. Most kids don't think to themselves i'm not getting attention maybe if i commit suicide i will, some do but not many, however many times there is a more subtle element of a cry for help, weather the person is aware of it or not. You are right however, sometimes it has nothing to do with attention whatsoever.

on Mar. 2 2011 at 12:39 pm
RachelLW BRONZE, Saint Louis, Missouri
3 articles 0 photos 1 comment
"Th1rteen R3asons Why" is a really good book, but I don't think that it really shows the reality of suicide and what it's like to have someone you're close to commit suicide. I think that "Hold Still" is probably the best book to illustrate that

ha52214 said...
on Mar. 2 2011 at 7:39 am
My FAVORITE book!!!!! LOVE THAT BOOK SOOOOO MUCH!!!! everyone should read it!!!! <3

on Feb. 7 2011 at 6:08 pm
tracingxconstellations SILVER, Mechanicsville, Maryland
5 articles 1 photo 2 comments

Favorite Quote:
You were given this life because you are strong enough to live it.

I loved this article. 

anonymous said...
on Feb. 7 2011 at 2:49 pm
i think that suicide-thoughts might be kinda genetic cause my grandad killed himself, my mom almost did, and sometimes have thoughts about it i've been having lots of bad days or lots of pressure. but i have to disagree with part of the article, i don't think kids commit suicide to get attention.

KitKat said...
on Feb. 3 2011 at 1:56 pm
I think that the real reason youth/kids are commiting suicide is based on the media.

on Jan. 21 2011 at 3:52 pm
xxxsam33 BRONZE, Wynantskill, New York
2 articles 0 photos 1 comment
I don't think that teens committ suicide just because they want attention. They wouldn't go to such extremes to get it. They could be diagnosed with depression and/or feel like it is the only way out of a bad situation or a hard life.

close_to_it said...
on Jan. 18 2011 at 12:32 am
You can't just say that people who think of suicide are mental, it really doesn't get anybody anywhere because like it or not, its not true. Teens are incredibly fragile, in ways that many adults seem to forget. Anything that hurts is devastating.  Its torture realizing that you have been so close to suicide and knowing you aren't strong enough to change that mentality. The one thing that I have found that personally helped me is being around people who truly care about you other than your family; people that are "there" for you.

on Jan. 12 2011 at 1:44 pm
BlahBlah135 BRONZE, Lake Oswego, Oregon
3 articles 0 photos 11 comments

Favorite Quote:

JUMP dfgsdfgsdf