When fashion designer Kate Spade took her own life on June 5, 2018 and then celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain took his life on June 8, 2018, mental health experts raised concerns about a phenomenon called "suicide contagion."
What is suicide contagion?
Suicide contagion is an exposure to suicide, especially through media reports of suicides, which result in an increase in suicidal behavior. People who are already struggling with suicidal thoughts are impacted by the news coverage of celebrity suicides. These at-risk people may find it easier to actually take their own lives if they hear of celebrities doing the same thing. As noted in the LA Times, Doreen Marshall of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention says that publishing details about the suicide and how it was done can be a triggering mechanism for someone who is already thinking about committing suicide.
History shows that suicide rates spiked 12% in the United States in the months following Marilyn Monroe's death on August 5, 1962. Celebrities and other people in the public eye create a big media stir when they do anything out of the ordinary, but especially when they commit suicide. The media tends to cover this dramatic and sad news extensively, thus getting the news out to more people, including those who are vulnerable. When you feel like you know a person who commits suicide, it creates a bigger impact.
How can we limit the effects of suicide contagion?
The media should try not to sensationalize the news of a suicide. Even if the suicide is someone famous, like Kate Spade, the headline should be factual instead of eye-catching. Journalists should also not discuss graphic details of how the suicide was committed. These sorts of details are exactly what at-risk people grasp onto when they are contemplating their own deaths.
Also, offset the reports of suicide with messages of hope. Encourage others to look for help. If you know a loved one or a neighbor who might be contemplating suicide, give them a call or a visit. Let them know you care. Be compassionate and keep lines of communication open.
A Center for Disease Control and Prevention report finds that 54% of those who committed suicide did not have a known diagnosed mental health condition at the time of their death. Just because someone seems normal and mentally healthy does not mean they are incapable of taking their own life. If someone talks to you about committing suicide, please take it seriously. Let them know about the help they can find in therapy, or give them the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, available 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255.
We at Staffing Plus hope you found this information to be interesting and helpful. If you are interested in learning more about this and related topics, visit the Mental Health section of our blog.
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