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.

JoeBiden said...
on Feb. 18 2021 at 11:27 am
JoeBiden, Washington, District Of Columbia
0 articles 0 photos 14 comments

Favorite Quote:
My fellow Americans, here's the deal!

My fellow Americans.

-President Biden

on Nov. 23 2016 at 9:26 pm
0 articles 0 photos 4 comments
this is great!! Are you a teen?

on Jan. 15 2016 at 10:54 am
Nated315 DIAMOND, Georgetown, New York
92 articles 7 photos 105 comments

Favorite Quote:
Truth has many shades. It's not a matter of black and white, but many grays.

so true! Now they can help others in their position.

on Jan. 12 2016 at 11:05 am
ChristianCapers PLATINUM, Dublin, Ohio
25 articles 8 photos 16 comments

Favorite Quote:
I don't get embarrassed, I embarrass.

But even though it is really against God's plan to kill yourselves, and it will always get better, at least they are angels now

on Jan. 11 2016 at 10:34 am
Nated315 DIAMOND, Georgetown, New York
92 articles 7 photos 105 comments

Favorite Quote:
Truth has many shades. It's not a matter of black and white, but many grays.

it really is!!! it always gets better, but people don't seem to get that.

on Jan. 10 2016 at 5:44 pm
SophieLoffie GOLD, Wilmington, Massachusetts
17 articles 0 photos 7 comments

Favorite Quote:
"The only way out of the labyrinth of suffering is to forgive."
-John Green; Looking For Alaska

So true!Amazing article!

Caroline943 said...
on Jan. 24 2015 at 10:36 am
This is a good piece of writing. I myself had tried to take my own life 7 times within last January to this January. It was all from bullying.

on Jan. 23 2015 at 11:30 am
Nated315 DIAMOND, Georgetown, New York
92 articles 7 photos 105 comments

Favorite Quote:
Truth has many shades. It's not a matter of black and white, but many grays.

Sad thing is that when a teen experiences loss, or is extremely depressed, and they see or hear about someone in their community committing suicide, they feel that they have found an easy way out.

on Nov. 28 2014 at 2:22 pm
ChristianCapers PLATINUM, Dublin, Ohio
25 articles 8 photos 16 comments

Favorite Quote:
I don't get embarrassed, I embarrass.

So true. I always get disturbed when people kill themselves--young or old--because it's like throwing away God's gift to life!

on Apr. 25 2014 at 6:43 pm
Victorialeo17 GOLD, ST PETERSBURG, FL, Florida
15 articles 0 photos 4 comments

Favorite Quote:
"One day all pain will subside and something else will take its place."

This is so TRUE!

Reydar SILVER said...
on Jan. 12 2014 at 9:30 pm
Reydar SILVER, Shrewsbury, Massachusetts
7 articles 0 photos 22 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Every storm runs out of rain"

Very well thought out and put together, I have to agree with all these points!

on Apr. 28 2013 at 8:05 pm
WinstonSmith BRONZE, Columbia, Missouri
3 articles 0 photos 32 comments
Suicide is never the answer.

on Oct. 17 2012 at 11:07 am
MarieAntoinette2014 DIAMOND, Scottsburg, Indiana
54 articles 2 photos 237 comments

Favorite Quote:
Isn't it ironic? We ignore the ones who adore us, adore the ones who ignore us, love the ones who hurt us, and hurt the ones that love us.

I have clinical depression, but I've never tried. I though about it a long time ago, but not now.

on Sep. 12 2012 at 8:30 am
ChickenLegHouse BRONZE, Brighton, Michigan
3 articles 0 photos 44 comments
Good for you. Sticking around for your family is a million times more brave then killing yourself.

KatsK DIAMOND said...
on Feb. 15 2012 at 9:37 pm
KatsK DIAMOND, Saint Paul, Minnesota
57 articles 0 photos 301 comments

Favorite Quote:
Being inexhaustible, life and nature are a constant stimulus for a creative mind.
~Hans Hofmann
You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.
~Ray Bradbury

Well, it's a topic that needs to be addressed, and thought about. Would it be better for several people to take their lives based on media, or to stop them, perhaps, from killing themselves? Hmm . . . . I wonder . . . . .

RedDaisy said...
on Jan. 28 2012 at 2:20 am
RedDaisy, Guayanilla, Other
0 articles 0 photos 19 comments

Favorite Quote:
"It's not just having the courage; you also need the strength. What's the point of having courage if you lose and can't get back up after the first fail?" -Me-

Very nice & informative article on teen suicide and the media. The statistics and dates were a very outstanding detail that made this more worthwhile to read. As this is an informative health article, I'm glad that opinions were kept to a minimun as that reflects on the reliability of your article.

on Jan. 26 2012 at 8:35 pm
Monkeygirl11 BRONZE, Scarborough, Maine
2 articles 1 photo 5 comments

Favorite Quote:
Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.

- Benjamin Franklin

I agree. I really can't see someone being so desperate for attention that they end their life.

on Jan. 25 2012 at 5:39 pm
LyverinthsWalk BRONZE, Lebanon, Maine
4 articles 0 photos 6 comments

Favorite Quote:
“I don't paint dreams or nightmares, I paint my own reality.” - Frida Kahlo

This really bugs, I don't have a lot of mental issues and I almost committed suicide myself, I didn't want to get attention, I was just tired of my life the bullying, being ignore, even by my own family. I just wanted to float away to a different plain, it's probably just like sleeping. The thing is though I am a teen, depressed sort of and I don't want attention when I die I just wanted to be free from all of this and the only thing that stopped me was thinking about how my family would feel, they would be such pain and who would be there to stand up for my sisters, if I had been more brave, and more selfcentered I might of ended my life last year, but it just isn't possible....

on Jan. 3 2012 at 6:56 pm
Wintergrl7 GOLD, Hopkinton, Massachusetts
19 articles 3 photos 17 comments

Favorite Quote:
The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.
—William Arthur Ward
The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge.
—Daniel J. Boorstin

I loved this article, and raised very important points. But I don't agree that this is about attention. You almost sound like you are accusing the poor teens that have died or attempted to commit suicide that it was only because they wanted attention. A half of all teenagers in the united states are depressed on some level. Sure, there may be some thought in the back of a teens head thinking about the attention they would get, but that is BECAUSE they are depressed, therefore thinking suicide would be the only way to get a persons attention.

on Dec. 12 2011 at 7:24 pm
CrazyGirl01 SILVER, Gibbon, Minnesota
7 articles 2 photos 20 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light." ~Albus Dumbledore

Amen to that