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Is Suicide Contagious?




In the aftermath of legendary actor/ comedian Robin Williams self-inflicted death by hanging, the news world has been flooded with stories about depression and suicide.

One story – published in The New York Times  – suggests suicide might be contagious.  And that the media may be responsible for fueling outbreaks.

“Suicide contagion is real, which is why I’m concerned about it,” one Columbia University professor told Times  reporter Margot Sanger-Katz.

Wait … “suicide contagion?”  Yup.  Basically, this theory holds that one suicide – especially the suicide of a celebrity – can create a chain reaction, and that younger people are especially susceptible in such circumstances.

Sanger-Katz article also delves into how media coverage of suicides – especially the glamorization of suicide death – could be feeding the “suicide contagion.”  In fact her article points to reporting guidelines for those who cover suicides, urging them to leave out sensationalism and gory details and instead focus on preventative measures for dealing with mental illness.

For example, the guidelines suggests generic headlines like “Kurt Cobain Dead at 27” rather than something more detailed and graphic like “Kurt Cobain Used Shotgun to Commit Suicide.”

Interesting … utterly impractical in the era of reporting, but interesting.

What do you think?  Is “suicide contagion” real?  And does the media bear some responsibility in fueling it?

Vote in our poll and post your thoughts in our comments section below …

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