Graphic Teen Suicide Reports May Spur Copycats

Researchers pored over newspaper archives
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 2, 2014 9:17 AM CDT
Graphic Teen Suicide Reports May Spur Copycats
Media should be responsible in how they report on suicide: study.   (Shutterstock)

Graphic and extensive news reports on a teen suicide may lead to more teen suicides, a new study has found. Researchers looked at 48 teen suicide "clusters" in US communities where three to 11 teens killed themselves over a six-month period occurring between 1988 and 1996 (before Internet news became prevalent, notes LiveScience); each cluster was compared to sole teen suicides that took place in two "matched control communities" in the same state. Researchers then dug into newspaper archives to gauge the coverage at the time, and found a correlation between how much newspaper attention is given to a suicide and the likelihood that others will follow.

Specifically, there were as many as 55 stories between the first and second clustered suicide (with an average of seven), and up to 36 after a noncluster suicide (with an average of five). The cluster-stories were also more likely to make the front page and include graphic details. HealthDay is quick to point out that the study certainly doesn't establish causation, and the lead researcher agrees that suicide "won't emerge in young people without underlying risk factors." But the cause of clusters remains a mystery, and newspaper coverage can be changed, she points out. "Our findings indicate that the more sensational the coverage of the cause of the suicides, and the more details the story provides, then the more likely there are to be more suicides." The next step? "Investigating the role of newer media in suicide clusters," the study says. (More teen suicide stories.)

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