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 Dec. 25 2010 at 8:35 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

you should read th1rteen r3asons why

1617almost said...
on Dec. 14 2010 at 3:52 pm
1617almost, Ukiah, California
0 articles 0 photos 26 comments
I like this article. From reading this article i would have to say that the media shouldnt just put sucide deaths of teens. But they should put down something along the reasons why people get suicidle thoughts and ways to help them. or even put down someone who has been treated from that stage. I dnt have those thoughts and i hope i never do get them. But i got depression in my blood i think because almost all my family takes medicine for it. I have only had two times with it but i can just imagine what the people with those thoughts feel like.

hiimaidann said...
on Dec. 10 2010 at 10:12 am
0 articles 0 photos 1 comment
This is an amazing article but this is such a sad subject when i read it i cant stop myself from crying

moneyman13 said...
on Dec. 9 2010 at 7:51 am
I belive that people can have suicide thoughts  

on Dec. 3 2010 at 7:49 pm
Writer4Life_21 SILVER, No Where, Maryland
5 articles 2 photos 41 comments

Favorite Quote:
"If you don't know where your going, you will end up someplace else." - Yogi Bera

my advice to the writer of this article is to make do something with this article! take it to major magazines and to the news and radio and every type of media there is out there. if you really want to do something about this horrible issue in the world, you must start my making your brilliant idea known!

on Dec. 3 2010 at 5:37 pm
There_Is_No_Forever SILVER, Marshville, North Carolina
6 articles 2 photos 5 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Love what you have while you have it."

This is so true. There was a story on the local news in my area about a suicide recently and within weeks there were at least 3 suicides similar to the first. The media shows too much information and lets teens in particular think that suicide is an escape. they think their preventing it but they're really promoting it in some situations.

LunaLives GOLD said...
on Dec. 3 2010 at 3:38 pm
LunaLives GOLD, South Bend, Indiana
17 articles 0 photos 237 comments

Favorite Quote:
Because I can!-Me "Life is a choice and death is a decision"-Lil Wayne

im so sorry for your los...

on Dec. 3 2010 at 12:45 pm
xprezzionstar BRONZE, Jeffersonville, Kentucky
3 articles 0 photos 57 comments

Favorite Quote:
All it takes it 20 seconds of insane courage and I promise you, something amazing will happen

i agree it is not wise to be suicidal but sometimes you just cant help it or no one is strong enought to speak out for you. it is NOT selfish

on Dec. 3 2010 at 12:42 pm
xprezzionstar BRONZE, Jeffersonville, Kentucky
3 articles 0 photos 57 comments

Favorite Quote:
All it takes it 20 seconds of insane courage and I promise you, something amazing will happen

exactly! im not tryion to be mean but if ppl r callin sucidal or self-injury people crazy stupid or sayin stuff like ms/mr Mandytakara said then that only makes matters worse! unless uve been there youself you have no right top say  anything unless u are tryin to understand or help someone in need

jhfkhd said...
on Dec. 3 2010 at 10:25 am
Great job!!!

on Nov. 29 2010 at 6:34 pm
I think this article is very helpful to people/teens who are trying to commit suicide, just because you have problems  dont mean they'll go away if you kill yourself...sometimes problems get even worse when people commit suicide.

on Nov. 23 2010 at 8:08 pm
nolongerinuse SILVER, San Antonio, Texas
8 articles 0 photos 60 comments

Favorite Quote:
“Love has no desire but to fulfill itself. To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night. To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving.” - Kahlil Gibran

I know. Been there. Luckily for me, three things stood my way. One, I didn't have the guts to do anything potientially painful to end my life, so basically i wimped out. Two, my dad reckoned that, after-life wise, those who commit suicide are the ones trapped in the ghost state of being, never passig on. A matter of opinion, I know, but still, what if? Ouch. Obviously I couldn't have that. And the final straw, the one that sealed the deal, came when I unexplainably fell in love. At thirteen, i had my first love. It was a stupid one--a book/movie character--but it was powerful enough. Ah, young, innocent love.

want to live said...
on Nov. 16 2010 at 3:26 am
Amen!  This is exactly right!

mom of teen said...
on Nov. 16 2010 at 3:24 am
My son killed himself, and I know he didn't do it because the media made it look like the people that have done it get more attention...  He was medically ill!  If only his counselor could have figured it out, but he just said, "be happy" and "choose something else on the table of options".  Then he released my son, 3 months later, he killed himself!

caitlin.d135 said...
on Nov. 11 2010 at 3:25 pm
caitlin.d135, Bethesda, Maryland
0 articles 11 photos 18 comments
People who think suicide is selfish are ignorant and have no idea what they are talking about. If you haven't been depressed to the point of suicide before then you absolutely have no right to make such a claim. I could go into an extremely long rant to prove you wrong but I will try to keep it short for your sake. I have struggled with depression for the last four years. I tried to kill myself twice. The first year I was depressed I would sit in my room literally sobbing for hours on end. You can't imagine how low someone has to feel to want to kill themselves. And when you are that sad, there's not much else in the world you can think about. In my mind, no one cared about me, so I wanted to die (among other reasons). THAT IS THE OPPOSITE OF SELFISH. BY THE WAY. If no one cares about you, then they wouldn't be sad if you died. Yeah so basically you're wrong. Do some more research before you talk about something you haven't personally experienced.

caitlin.d135 said...
on Nov. 11 2010 at 3:11 pm
caitlin.d135, Bethesda, Maryland
0 articles 11 photos 18 comments
What you said is really interesting. I don't think kids ignore the signs because they don't care, but that they just don't know how. Or they have the uninformed belief that their friend is just vying for attention. But you were totally right when you said that there are usually signs, and a lot of people don't do anything. I think schools should take on the responsibility of making kids more aware about the signs and what they can do to help. 

caitlin.d135 said...
on Nov. 11 2010 at 3:03 pm
caitlin.d135, Bethesda, Maryland
0 articles 11 photos 18 comments
I think you should re-check your information source. Because DEPRESSION is the most common reason teens commit suicide. 

caitlin.d135 said...
on Nov. 11 2010 at 3:00 pm
caitlin.d135, Bethesda, Maryland
0 articles 11 photos 18 comments
I actually laughed out loud when I read your post. How ignorant do you have to be to say something like that? You have no idea what you're talking about. You couldn't even begin to imagine what people who want to commit suicide think and feel. I used to sit alone in my room sobbing for hours. I have never been in more pain than I was in at those times. And looking ahead for better times is almost impossible when you are that depressed. SO, get a clue!!!

caitlin.d135 said...
on Nov. 11 2010 at 2:55 pm
caitlin.d135, Bethesda, Maryland
0 articles 11 photos 18 comments
That is a horrible and extremely insensitive thing to say. You obviously have never had to deal with suicidal depression before. Don't comment about things you know nothing about.

on Nov. 10 2010 at 11:36 am
CryingCrimsonTears BRONZE, Sheboygan, Wisconsin
1 article 0 photos 5 comments

Favorite Quote:
Sometimes, even living is an act of courage.

I'd appreciate it if you THINK before you comment.

If you've never had suicidal thoughts, or self-mutilated, you would have absolutly NO idea what you're talking about.

You say it's "selfish," but the real selfish act here is when the suicidal person is ignored, rejected, and left out in the cold.


So no, commiting suicide is NOT selfish by ANY means.