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 Nov. 10 2010 at 11:34 am
CryingCrimsonTears BRONZE, Sheboygan, Wisconsin
1 article 0 photos 5 comments

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

Really, that's what all people who feel suicidal, or self-injur do. They think of the better things in life.

But trust me, that suicidal state of mind never goes away. You can't talk yourself out of it.

Its way easier said, than done.

friendship said...
on Nov. 9 2010 at 12:44 pm
i think you are right but teenagers should not be moms yet their parents should get togather and do something about it because if you are a teenage mom you will feel even more stressed and worried and it will seem like you have even more on your hands so i think you should let your parents work it out  but i still think you are right

friendship said...
on Nov. 9 2010 at 12:39 pm
if you feel like you are going to kill yourself you may want to think of what you are going to miss out on and you should get help and no let your life go

drf409 BRONZE said...
on Oct. 28 2010 at 12:00 pm
drf409 BRONZE, Plaquemine, Louisiana
2 articles 0 photos 5 comments

Favorite Quote:
"The most beautiful things in life can't be touched but it must be felt with the heart." -UNKNOWN

I can relate to this article. Every year I would hear how a teenager would take their own lives over craziness. I think teenage moms should get together and talk to their children about suicide. Teenagers these days would kill themselves just because they are depressed or they feel left out. Killing yourself is not the way.

on Oct. 28 2010 at 10:47 am
imkayydavis SILVER, Missouri City , Texas
7 articles 1 photo 8 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Be yourself and not who people want you to be."

I agree on the opinion the author has. This subject is important and needs to be discussed. Suicide is a problem that needs to be talked about between parents and their teenager or teenagers. I like the quote, “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.” There are many other ways to get attention. Suicide is not the only way.

ceb105 BRONZE said...
on Oct. 27 2010 at 8:55 am
ceb105 BRONZE, White Castle, Louisiana
1 article 0 photos 5 comments

Favorite Quote:
I'm Batman.

This article poses many thought-provoking facts. I agree that the media coverage of teen suicides should be changed and does affect other teens in a negative way. We teens are normally brought up with a desire to be like others. Even if it is wanting to be unique, we want to be unique like other people. Showing that the suicide victim was "just another average teen" and "it could have been anyone" causes this inborn desire to flare up, and combined with a topic such as suicide, should not be messed with lightly.

on Oct. 26 2010 at 2:26 pm
Dylanjegart BRONZE, Thibodaux, Louisiana
4 articles 0 photos 3 comments
I believe a majority of information in this article is true. This is to many suicides from teenagers. There needs to be a way for this to be prevented.

bjb103 BRONZE said...
on Oct. 26 2010 at 9:13 am
bjb103 BRONZE, Plaquemine, Louisiana
3 articles 0 photos 5 comments
I agree with everyone who posted comments. Teens are mostly the ones who commit suicide. They commit suicide because they feel awful, and yes, they can get help. They want to commit suicide because of what happened to them, what they seen, or maybe even death in their family. So since these misfortunes happen, they just want to end their life. That is not a great way to end their life.

KRD108 BRONZE said...
on Oct. 26 2010 at 9:05 am
KRD108 BRONZE, Plaquemine, Louisiana
4 articles 0 photos 4 comments
I agree with the fact that media attention does encourage more suicide attempts.  I agree because most people who attempt suicide do it for attention, so when they see other people getting attention from the media, they attempt it too.  The best way to stop this would be if the media would stop covering suicides.  It only encourages other people to do it.  I think this story was extremely well written, and made many good points on teen suicide.

on Oct. 26 2010 at 9:01 am
shellbelle524 BRONZE, Plaquemine, Louisiana
4 articles 0 photos 5 comments
The passage above does share some great points, but to some teens suicide is the only way out. Life can be rough and although teens should be able to handle it,some can't. The fact that teens think that it's a glamourous thing is surprising. Honestly, no death is glamourous, but that's my own personal opinion. I understand the teens who want to because they feel life its hard or they're too stressed more than the teens who wants to because it's glamourous. I agree with neither.

on Oct. 20 2010 at 7:10 pm
John_C_Polles, Norton, Ohio
0 articles 0 photos 3 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Listen baby, Muver love you. Muver not dumb. Listen baby: ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ. Thas the alphabet. Twenty-six letters in all. Them letters make up words. Them words everything." --Sapphire, PUSH.

People who commit suicide do not have the idea planted in their head. If they're in danger, they will have already thought of doing it themselves. The media very may well play a role in planting a method in the teens' heads, but the feelings that make someone suicidal were already present. People do not commit suicide to be glamorous or selfish or attention-seeking -- they kill themselves because they don't feel as though they have any way out of the sadness and axiety they are feeling. They don't want to die; they just don't know how to live.

Carrich said...
on Oct. 20 2010 at 6:31 pm
Uhm no?? I stringly disagree, considering i was suicidal for a long time. It is not a selfish act by all means.  Talking badly about something you cant comprehend is offensive.

on Oct. 20 2010 at 1:22 pm
Mandytakara BRONZE, St. Helens, Oregon
1 article 0 photos 6 comments

Favorite Quote:
“To live everyday like it’s the last, looking forward to the next, to believe you can and you will accomplish the goal in which you strive for,”
~Amanda Lynn Takara

if you honestly feel like killing yourself the die!

on Oct. 20 2010 at 11:32 am
nefariouslyme, Richland, Michigan
0 articles 0 photos 72 comments
Suicide is the most selfish act. Sure, people commit suicide because they feel awful, but it is possible to get help. If you can't find any, then you're not looking hard enough. People who commit suicide don't care enough about other people's feelings to imagine how they would truly feel when they're gone. All they think of is the people who they think will be happier without them. There is always someone out there who will mourn you.

on Oct. 20 2010 at 10:08 am
icingonthecake BRONZE, Riverside, California
3 articles 3 photos 82 comments
The media needs to stop exposing teens to such inappropriate subjects, and acknowledge the fact that today's youth is extremely impressionable. The media has a strong negative influence over the world.

on Oct. 20 2010 at 7:00 am
Thanks_For_All_The_Fish42 GOLD, Valley Cottage, New York
16 articles 0 photos 5 comments

Favorite Quote:
"We're all mad here."- The Ceshire Cat

Yes but the fact is that we don't want kids dying because of these problems, and the fact of seeing others doing it can remove the doubt that they may have with suicide. And overall it doesn't matter if you downplay the teenager, what matters is that over 150 people die in clusters of suicides for a reason and there is a way that it can be helped. Awesome article.

on Oct. 17 2010 at 6:14 pm
Dragonscribe BRONZE, West Lafayette, Indiana
4 articles 0 photos 303 comments

Favorite Quote:
"A Person's a Person no Matter how Small"
"A Rose by Any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet"
"God helps those who help themselves"

So true, suicide gets you attention. But what good is attention when you're dead? How do you even know you'll get to to see what's going on on Earth? I believe in God and heaven, and I do not think He would indulge people who have committed suicide in watching all the attention they receive. Think about it, people. Attention only matters when you can soak it up - and if you can, make it positive attention. Don't ruin the lives of your family just for some fame you can't claim.

teen boy said...
on Oct. 15 2010 at 12:58 pm
it is the wrong answer to do some thing like that  :(

brittany13 said...
on Sep. 24 2010 at 9:16 am
I think it is very upsetting that teens would commit suicide because of celebrities. Teens should not commit suicide because of this, if they are having any problems they should go see someone instead of taking their life away. No one wants to see them get hurt, and they have a whole life ahead of them. If you know anybody who is depressed or upset try to help them. It would them and also you!

on Sep. 6 2010 at 7:04 pm
waligreen BRONZE, Los Osos, California
2 articles 0 photos 4 comments

Favorite Quote:
"He said, if you allowed yourself to be enchanted by the beauty to be seen in even ordinary things, then all things proved to be extraordinary." - Dean Koontz

You have a good point here and this is very well written, but in a way you are also making out teen suicides to be superficial when a lot of them are caused by teenagers who don't know how to deal with pain or unfortunate events in their lives.  Some of them have irrepressible depression or anxiety.  They don't choose to end their lives for glamour or because their favorite celebrity did so.  That is degrading to our generation.