Suicide Can Be “Contagious” Says Science

April 20, 2019

Written by Capt McNeely

Georgia Division ZADF Twitter: @ZADF_ORG

Seeing the title of this article automatically fills your head with scenes from films where a supernatural force causes people to take their own lives after being exposed to it. Facts usually are more terrifying than fiction as it turns out there’s truth to this idea, it’s called Suicide Contagion and it’s on the rise. This contagion is not viral or bacterial but a psychological trigger.

The concept of Suicide Contagion (also referred to as Copycat Suicide) has been around since the 18th century and was known as the Werther effect. This phenomenon was named after the main character in the 1779 novel The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe. The book became popular in Europe to the point that many people began to emulate portions of the story into their daily lives such as men dressing in the same fashion as Werther, and painted porcelain (that was mentioned in the book) began to appear in shops. The Werther effect took a dark turn to where suicide began to increase among men who have copied Werther’s death right down to using the same type of pistol he used in the story.





Jumping to the present, a recent study has shown the rise in Suicide Contagion among teens and young adults. The study broke down events involving what are called “Suicide clusters” when multiple people in an area commit suicide that seem to be connected. The ways these suicides are connected is the location (the victims are from the same area/town), the method it was done, and that there was no real sign or reason for the suicide. An unnamed affluent town was part of the study where some of the victims seemed to “have it all”.

The connections among the youth’s deaths were stress involving academics and extracurricular activity. This lead to the theory that teens that seem to have things going good for them may felt stressed to the point that they wanted to make a statement to the adults who they feel is not listening. But it’s not being stressed that may have caused their suicides… it was overexposure to a recent one.



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The main focus of Suicide Contagion, much like the Werther effect, is the glorifying of the event, constant references to it, and devolving too many details. Someone may commit suicide due to mental illness but how the (local/national) media, as well as the local population, handles it can result in the contagion to begin. Whenever a celebrity commits suicide, there’s a spike in copycat events following prolong exposure by the media who to the point will go as far as to explain in detail how the celebrity performed the deed.

There are methods to counter Suicide Contagion, the main responsibility falling on the shoulders of the media in how they report suicides may it be a small town newspaper or a corporate ran media outlet. The opposite of everything mentioned above should be done, as well as offering ways of help which I hope this article and the links provided will help others to see the potential signs.

If you or anyone you know has had thoughts of suicide, PLEASE call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741

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