Suicide is a leading cause of global mortality in those aged 25 years or younger. It accounts for the largest number of fatalities in females and the third largest number of fatalities in males aged 15 to 19 years relative to other causes of death.1 The incidence of suicidal ideation and self-harm behavior increases rapidly during adolescence and represents a period of heightened suicide risk. Young people who have made a suicide attempt, for example, experience a 10-fold increase in suicide risk compared to the general population and may experience negative psychosocial outcomes that persist into adulthood.2
Role of traditional media
The role of the media has been identified as a critical component in suicide prevention.3 Traditional media’s influence on facilitating suicide “contagion” (ie, imitative behavior) has been well documented. This phenomenon has been linked to the mechanism of suicide contagion, whereby exposure to suicide facilitates suicidal behavior in another. Increases in suicide following exposure to suicide have been documented following celebrity suicides, news reports, and fictional portrayals of suicide, and the young appear particularly susceptible to this effect.
In an effort to mitigate the potential for suicide contagion, several countries have successfully implemented media reporting guidelines to help facilitate the safe reporting of suicide. These guidelines have been largely shaped by evidence that has linked increased rates of suicide to media content including: prominent and ongoing coverage of a suicide death; sensationalized language; stories glorifying the suicide act; and detailed descriptions of the method of suicide. By contrast, content that promotes help-seeking behavior and includes messages of hope and recovery is believed to be protective.
A recent example of the potential confounding effects of the media on youth suicide prevention was demonstrated following the release of the 2017 Netflix series “13 Reasons Why,” which builds up to the graphic suicide of a 17-year-old student over 13 episodes. Suicide attempts that resembled the suicide in the series were reported in several anecdotal media reports throughout the United States. Additionally, an increase in website searches of suicide methods was observed following the broadcast of the series.4 Critics, including the National Association of School Psychologists suggested that the graphic portrayal of suicide without appropriate safeguards and the potential of young people to binge watch episodes in succession may have potentially facilitated incidents of suicide contagion among those with existing vulnerabilities.
By contrast a recent international report found the majority of teenagers who viewed the popular Netflix series found that the issues raised by the show were relevant, increased awareness about factors such as depression and bullying, and promoted conversations about difficult topics among teens and their parents.5
Ms Hill is a PhD candidate at Orygen, The National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, Centre for Youth Mental Health, The University of Melbourne; Dr Robinson is a Senior Research Fellow and Head of Suicide Prevention at Orygen; Dr Rice is a Senior Research Fellow and Clinical Psychologist at Orygen.
The authors report no conflicts of interest concerning the subject matter of this article.
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