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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Are We Looking At Copycat Youth Suicides | Focus On The Rainbow

I had been thinking about the reaction to this commentary all day on Monday, but after reading of yet another teen suicide I could not help but ask myself the question, are we now seeing an epidemic of copycat suicides. I offer no answers in this posting just a very unsettling question which I put to readers and those of scholarly minds and investigative authorities.

I can’t recall so many teen or near teen suicides, both LGBT and not, in such a short time frame as we have had since the beginning of this school year. And when one is brought to the brink of so much despair and reading about others is it possible that some are now looking at that final answer to their various dilemmas as a way to go on and be remembered through the media and reminders of what brought them to that final act of desperation.

This question of mine is not new. On January 23, 2008, Daniel Finkelstein wrote an op-ed piece at The Times titled “Does the Internet cause copycat suicides?” in which he wrote in part, The first thing to understand is that copycat suicides are not something new. In fact there is an academic name for them – the Werther Effect – and this name shows that these strange deaths have happened for many years.

Goethe’s novel Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (The Sorrows of Young Werther) was published in 1774. And its publication was followed by many reports of young men shooting themselves. Why? It was widely believed that these suicides were copies of the death of the novel’s hero.
When academic David Phillips studied copycat suicides in the early 1970s, he coined the term Werther Effect.

While doing some background for this posting, besides the above I found a three page PDF of an article written in 2003 by a  Dr. S. Stack then with the Department of Criminal Justice, Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan and titled, “Media coverage as a risk factor in suicide“. It starts off with the following, 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. Studies based on a real as opposed to fictional story were 4.03 times more likely to uncover a copycat effect. Research based on televised stories was 82% less likely to report a copycat effect than research based on newspapers. 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.

If what we are witnessing are indeed some form of copycat suicides this raises the bar to an even higher level of concern for our LGBT youth and all youth in general who may be suffering at the hands of bullies or some other sort of persecution whether verbal, physical or via the Internet. Let’s hope there are wiser minds than this simple writer who can evaluate and come to some sort of solution before more young people are lost through acts of so final desperation.


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