Is Suicide Contagious?
Grief, Violence, and Suicide – What Happens After a School Shooting
April 30, 2019
After media coverage of a “famous’ suicide,” suicide rates start to rise. One week after Parkland High School graduate Sydney Aiello committed suicide, current Parkland Sophomore Calvin Desir followed.
News of Aiello’s death sparked national attention. Headlines of possible reasons linking her suicide to her experience with the Parkland school shooting could be seen on TV news cycles everywhere. However, many of these networks failed to realize the fatal effects of their broadcasting.
This leads to the question: does excessive media coverage encourage suicide? The answer is unclear.
While there is no exact proof Desir’s suicide was caused by widespread media attention, there is plenty of evidence to support the overall theory.
According to the ABC News, “In the month after Marilyn Monroe died from a barbiturates overdose in 1962, there was bump in suicide deaths by as much as 12 percent, according to the Center for Suicide Prevention.”
After the death of a well-known celebrity, suicide rates tend to spike. Deaths do not occur only between celebrities and their fans, but between celebrities as well. Well-known chef, author, and travel documentarian Anthony Bourdain committed suicide just days after famed fashion designer Kate Spade was found dead from an alleged suicide in June 2018.
“When ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’ first came out around 2017, suicide rates actually increased. Media needs to stop romanticizing the idea of suicide,” says Sarah Mounce (‘20).
This phenomenon has coined the term “Suicide contagion,” which is defined by ABC News as “indirect exposure to suicide or suicidal behaviors, influencing others to attempt to kill themselves.”
“Unfortunately I believe that suicide contagion is a real thing. It’s like the saying ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ If you don’t hear about it, you don’t necessarily have that type of idea in your head,” says Maria Kynkor (‘21).
Is there a proper way for news outlets and other forms of media to cover suicide? If so, what is it?
“There should be guidelines. You need to remember not to sugarcoat the situation because that will just lead to harmful depictions of what is actually true. You want to make sure that people are actually educated about it,” says Asha Sneed (‘21).
Some feel there need to be stricter guidelines put in place after tragedies occur.
According to the “New York Times,” the ideal behind the instruction would be “to avoid emphasizing or glamorizing suicide, or to make it seem like a simple or inevitable solution for people who are at risk.”
“People still need to remember to bring awareness to the issue in a respectful and efficient way,” says Kynkor.