Celebrity suicide sparks “copycat” attempts

Men twice as likely as women to be influenced. pQUOTE]
Thursday, July 26, 2007; 4:27 PM

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – The media frenzy surrounding a celebrity suicide may lead to a spike in suicide attempts, with people who have previously attempted suicide being especially susceptible, researchers from Taiwan report.

“The results provide further support for the need for more restrained reporting of suicides as part of suicide prevention strategies and for special vigilance for contagious effects of such reporting on people who have carried out recent suicidal acts,” Dr. Andrew T. A. Cheng of the Institute of Biomedical Sciences at the Academia Sinica in Taipei and colleagues conclude.

Past studies have linked celebrity suicides and “copycat” attempts, Cheng and his colleagues note, but most studies have not delved into how much suicide coverage these individuals actually saw or how it influenced them.

To investigate, the researchers interviewed and collected data for 270 individuals who had attempted suicide during the 3-week period of media coverage after the 2005 suicide of Taiwanese TV star M.J. Nee. The researchers were able to interview 124 of these individuals.

On TV and in print, the researchers note, “the suicide act was depicted as an understandable solution to the victim’s dilemma, which included his extramarital relationships and his recent frustrations in show business.”

Compared to the same time period in 2003 and 2004, the suicide rate for the two counties included in the study rose by 55 percent during the weeks after Nee’s body was discovered and media coverage was heaviest, the researchers found.

Nearly 90 percent of the people the researchers interviewed said they had been exposed to coverage of Nee’s suicide, while 23.4 percent of these individuals said they had been influenced by it

Men were more than twice as likely as women to report being influenced, while individuals who had attempted suicide in the previous year were more than 50 times as likely to say the coverage of Nee’s death had helped trigger their own suicide attempt. No increase in suicide attempts was found among those with a history of suicidal thoughts but who made no attempts in the last year.

Most commonly, people said that coverage of Nee’s death had encouraged them to imitate the TV star or helped them to rationalize the act. Others said hearing of the celebrity’s suicide gave them a sense of hopelessness or provided them with information on suicide methods.

The findings confirm that “dramatic and extensive” reporting of celebrity suicides can influence others to attempt suicide, the researches write, and suggest that during such coverage, doctors should pay particularly close attention to people who have tried suicide in the past.

SOURCE: Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, June 2007.

Copyright © 2007 Reuters Limited.

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