Media Can Impact Suicide Risk

It is important for those interested in suicide prevention and postvention to understand the impact media plays on suicide risk.  Here are a few important findings.

1. In 2008 the World Health Organization published a 22 page resource book for media professionals to assist in prevention and responsible coverage of suicide.  In the book, WHO cites over 50 investigations into imitative suicides have been conducted. Systematic reviews of these studies have consistently drawn the same conclusion: media reporting of suicide can lead to imitative suicidal behaviors.

2. From 2003 Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, a total of 293 findings from 42 studies on the impact of publicized suicide stories in the media on the incidence of suicide in the real world were analyzed by logistic regression analysis. Studies measuring the effect of either an entertainment or political celebrity suicide story were 14.3 times more likely to find a copycat effect than studies that did not.

Research based on televised stories was 82% less likely to report a copycat effect than research based on newspapers.

3. A review of recent events in Austria and Switzerland indicates that suicide prevention organizations can successfully convince the media to change the frequency and content of their suicide coverage in an effort to reduce copycat effects.

The largest possible copycat effect found was for the well known movie star Marilyn Monroe. During the month of her suicide in August 1962 there were an additional 303 suicides.

It is recommended that Media follow the safe messaging guidelines set forth by American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and other experts.

For more information, please review the Suicide Prevention Resource Center’s postvention resource sheet.


Harvard Kennedy School on Media via:

WHO Media Guidelines via:

Niederkrotenthaler, Thomas; et al. (2011).  Changes in Suicide Rates Following Media Reports on Celebrity Suicide: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, 2012. doi: 10.1136/jech-2011-200707.