Could media reports on celeb suicides trigger copycats?

Reporting on celebrity suicides should be done responsibly.
Reporting on celebrity suicides should be done responsibly.

How the media reports on celebrity suicides may increase the risk for copycats, a new study suggests.

But following guidelines on the reporting of these suicides can reduce the risk of others following suit, researchers added.

Non-adherence to guidelines

"Suicide needs to be reported on as a public health issue every single time, rather than a story focused on the celebrity's death and the method of that death," said researcher Arielle Sheftall, from the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

For the study, she and her team used 14 variables from recommendations by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention on how to report on suicide, which include not sensationalising the death and framing the report as a public health issue. The researchers looked at how the guidelines were used after the suicides of designer Kate Spade and chef Anthony Bourdain.

After reviewing newspaper articles from across the United States, they found that some media didn't adhere to several of the suicide reporting guidelines.

On average, only seven of the 14 guidelines were followed and only two were followed by all the newspapers.

Not pointing fingers

The two guidelines that were followed stress that suicide isn't caused by a single factor and that suicide isn't a growing epidemic.

Guidelines that weren't followed by any of the papers included stressing that suicide is preventable and good treatment can reduce the risk of suicide.

It's important to understand that many people are reading the story, including those at risk for suicide, Sheftall noted.

"People who may be struggling with suicidal thoughts could be exposed to these articles, and that is why it is so crucial to follow all of the suicide reporting guidelines. We are not pointing fingers at journalists or their newsrooms, but encouraging them to become aware of the guidelines and understanding their nuances," she said in a hospital news release.

The report was published online in the journal JAMA Network Open.

Image credit: iStock

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