Thursday, December 06, 2012

Reluctant Reporting

University of King's College Journalism School in Nova Scotia wrote this article about the reluctance of newspapers to cover suicides - most follow guidelines established by the Canadian Mental Health Association. The main reason given for not reporting - or at least being very carful in reporting suicides is the "copy-cat" effect on teens.  It is surprising that the reason given for this treatment remains the "celebrity" suicide of Marilyn Munroe in 1962 that caused an uptick in teen suicides the following month.  But current recent research1 on that topic is mixed and much more focused than supporting a blanket ban.
The suicide of actress Marilyn Monroe was associated with a 12% increase in suicide (Phillips, 1974). On the other hand, the most complex study to date of television coverage analyzed the effect of 87 television suicide media stories (1973–1984) on the national incidence of teenage suicide. It determined that there was no imitative effect in 65 of 69 regression analyses (Kessler, Downey, Milavsky & Stipp, 1988).

The few findings supporting a copycat effect tended to involve well-known or celebrity models. More generally, an analysis of 42 studies on nonfictional and fictional media impacts on suicide determined that less than half of the findings were significant variables. (Stack, 2000).

This "silence" has got to change.

Paradoxically today, mostly only "celebrity" suicides are reported - the worst kind to report for "copy-cat" responses - while many other of relative unknowns are not reported at all  - or worse are "half" reported (they go missing - but any account of recovery disappears out of the newspaper.)    Another interesting observation is that females deaths tend to elicit a larger copycat effect than male suicides - which may reflect a number of social factors.  My conclusion is that unknown male suicides have a prophylactic impact.

If people knew of the numbers of suicide - there would be an outcry against it and I believe more effective preventative action taken. Now, perhaps it would increase the numbers - but they are already so high - it is hard to tell if it can get any worse.



University of King's College Journalism School: "Suicide: Breaking Media Silence - Journalists struggle with how to cover the sad taboo." (

CMHA Media Guidelines on Reporting Suicides:  (
1) Suicide in the Media: A Quantitative Review of Studies Based on Nonfictional Stories. Steven Stack, PhD. 2005  Wayne State University.

No comments:

Post a Comment