The relationship between media reporting of suicide and actual suicide in Australia

Jane Pirkis, Philip Burgess, Catherine Francis, Warwick Blood, Damien Jolley

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    97 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    This study aimed to determine whether media items about suicide were associated with differential increases in actual suicides. Data were available on 4635 suicide-related items appearing in Australian newspapers and on radio and television news and current affairs shows between March 2000 and February 2001. These data were combined with national data on completed suicides occurring during the same period, by a process that involved identifying the date and geographical reach of the media items and determining the number of suicides occurring in the same location in selected weeks pre- and post-item. Regression analyses were conducted to determine whether the likelihood of an increase in post-item suicides could be explained by particular item characteristics. We found that 39% of media items were followed by an increase in male suicides, and 31% by an increase in female suicides. Media items were more likely to be associated with increases in both male and female suicides if they occurred in the context of multiple other reports on suicide (versus occurring in isolation), if they were broadcast on television (versus other media), and if they were about completed suicide (versus attempted suicide or suicidal ideation). Different item content appeared to be influential for males and females, with an increase in male suicides being associated with items about an individual's experience of suicide and opinion pieces, and an increase in female suicides being associated with items about mass- or murder-suicide. Item prominence and quality were not differentially associated with increases in male or female suicides. Further research on this topic is required, but in the meantime there is a need to remain vigilant about how suicide news is reported. Mental health professionals and suicide experts should collaborate with media professionals to try to balance ‘public interest’ against the risk of harm.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2874-2886
    Number of pages13
    JournalSocial Science and Medicine
    Volume62
    Issue number11
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2006

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