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Are News Reports of Suicide Contagious? A Stringent Test in Six U.S. Cities

Journal of Communication cover.Abstract

Past evidence of suicidal contagion from news reports in the United States is based largely on national data prior to 1980 using proxies for suicide stories rather than local news sources. Our research examined more proximal effects of suicide news reporting for 4 months in 1993 in 6 U.S. cities controlling for a wide range of alternative sources of media and interpersonal influence. In addition, predictions for the effect based on suicide contagion theories were examined for 3 age groups (15–25, 25–44, and older than 44). Local television news was associated with increased incidence of deaths by suicide among persons younger than 25 years. Newspaper reports were associated with suicide deaths for both young persons and persons older than 44 years. An unexpected protective effect of television news reports was observed in the 25–44 age range; nevertheless, news reporting was associated with an aggregate increase in suicide deaths. The results support theories of media contagion but also suggest that media depiction can inhibit suicide among some audience members.