Copycat suicide is a term given to an imitative suicidal behaviour that occurs after exposure to another suicide. This often happens after exposure to media reports of a celebrity’s suicide, which has a considerable effect on at-risk individuals. This is often observed in clusters, called as the suicide clusters, which is followed by a celebrity suicide.
Media has been an important influence to general public. When such a phenomenon which involves a known celebrity/artist occurs, media plays an important role in the reporting of it. What is reported and how it is reported, makes a huge difference on how it is appraised by the general public, let alone the younger generation. Suicide researchers pointed out the potential triggering effects of the irresponsible reporting or portrayal of suicide and self-harm, as advised against in media guidelines. When such an incident occurs, it’s important that the media reports it as carefully as possible. It is crucial for the reporting to be sensitive and also, caters to the privacy of the person involved. Both out of respect for the deceased but also to not encourage susceptible individuals.
Looking at a pattern of such behaviour taking place every time there’s an insensitive reporting, media should curb on using phrases or sentences, which might potentially cause a trigger among the public. Research on this topic leans on a crucial theory, namely, Social learning theory; the idea that when a vulnerable teen identifies with a suicide victim, s/he might choose the same fate, thinking that “Maybe that’s a way out for me since I’m experiencing the same pain” (Gould 1989). This phenomenon, however, dates back to 1970’s, where in 1974, sociologist David Phillips coined the tendency of teenagers to imitate these suicides as “The Werther Effect”—named for the lovelorn protagonist of Goethe Sturm Und Drang novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther, which featured a maudlin fictional suicide that, according to legend, was copied so many times by real people that the book was banned in several countries (Pitman, 2018)
Hence, in conclusion, as a mental health organisation advocating for awareness, we hope that such content will be carefully created hereon because the influence that it may have on the public is largely based on its reporting. We suggest the media outlets to be sensitive especially when it comes to reporting of such incidents.
- Gould MS, Wallenstein S, Davidson L. (1989) Suicide clusters: a critical review. Suicide Life Threat Behav. Spring;19(1):17–29. Retrieved from: https://fit.thequint.com/mind-it/copycat-suicides-why-we-need-sensitive-reporting-on-suicides
- Pitman A. (2018), Understanding and preventing copycat suicides.
Retrieved from: https://blogs.biomedcentral.com/bmcseriesblog/2018/03/05/understanding-and-preventing-copycat-suicides/
- Zadrozny B., (2017) Teen Copycat Suicides Are A Real Phenomenon. Retrieved from: https://www.thedailybeast.com/teen-copycat-suicides-are-a-real-phenomenon