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The Influence of Media Coverage of a Celebrity Suicide on Subsequent Suicide Attempts

J Clin Psychiatry 2007;68:862-866

Objective: To investigate the impact of media reporting of a celebrity suicide on subsequent suicide attempts.

Method: A Poisson time series autoregression analysis was conducted to examine whether there was a significant increase in suicide attempts during the 3-week period after the start of extensive media reporting of a celebrity suicide. The reporting began on May 2, 2005, and lasted about 17 days. To investigate the influence of media reporting on suicide attempts, a structured interview was conducted with 124 suicide attempters identified from 2 counties in Mid Taiwan who had exposure to the media reporting.

Results: After controlling for seasonal variation, calendar year, temperature, and humidity, there was a marked increase in the number of suicide attempts during the 3-week period after media reporting began (adjusted relative risk = 1.55, 95% CI = 1.26 to 1.91). Among 124 suicide attempters exposed to the media reports, 23.4% reported an influence from them. There was no relationship between the attempters' ages and the age of the celebrity or the method, but male attempters had a significantly higher risk for such influence. A considerably higher risk for such influence was found among subjects with a history of suicide attempt(s) in the previous year (odds ratio = 52.3, 95% CI = 5.96 to 459.1).

Conclusions: The extensive media reporting of the suicide of a celebrity was followed by an increase in suicide attempts. The effect was particularly marked in individuals with a recent history of a suicide attempt. 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.