Youth Suicide Clusters and Newspaper Coverage

January 29, 2016

News Type:  Weekly Spark, Weekly Spark Research

An analysis of newspaper reporting on youth and celebrity suicides (1988-1996) found that front-page placement; headlines containing the word “suicide” or a description of the method used; and detailed descriptions of the suicidal individual and act, including the name of the individual who died, were significantly more likely to be followed by additional youth suicides than were suicides in which newspaper coverage lacked those characteristics.

The authors cautioned that—despite the significant relationship between newspaper coverage and subsequent youth suicides—only 25 percent of suicide clusters and 46 percent of youth suicides that followed celebrity suicides were preceded by the type of newspaper coverage found to be significantly associated with contagion. The authors suggested that “the causes of suicide are complex, and if publicity around a suicide model does contribute to a suicide death, it invariably does so in concert with many other suicide risk factors.” At the same time, the authors noted that the significant relationship between certain types of newspaper coverage of suicides and subsequent suicide clusters suggests that it is important for mental health professionals, community officials, and the media to work together to ensure that press coverage of suicides does not contribute to suicide risk by vulnerable youth who may model suicidal behavior on that of other young people their age or celebrities with whom they identify.

Gould, M. S., Kleinman, M. H., Lake, A. M, Forman, J., & Midle, J. B. (2014). Newspaper coverage of suicide and initiation of suicide clusters in teenagers in the USA, 1988–96: A retrospective, population-based, case-control study. American Journal of Public Health, 104(12):2359-2368.