What’s more, the study published in The Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) confirms that teens do not have to be personally linked to the suicide victim to entertain thoughts of suicide or to attempt suicide themselves.
“When someone dies, particularly a young person,” explains Dr. Colman, “the deceased is described by their loved ones in the media and in social media in glowing, romantic terms, often mentioning how beautiful the child was. Talk like this is common when any child dies, but it can be dangerous when talking about suicide. When other vulnerable youth are reading or hearing about this, they see the reports about how wonderful the person was and they want their loved ones to feel the same way about them.”
Examining data from over 22,000 participants between the ages of 12 and 17, researchers found that 12-to-13 year olds who had been exposed to suicide were five times more likely to be thinking about suicide themselves or to say that they had attempted suicide. Surprisingly, however, there is almost no variance in these statistics when the teen’s personal knowledge of the deceased is factored in. The effect appears to decline as the teen ages: 14-to-15 year olds who were exposed to suicide were three times as likely to think about or attempt suicide, while 16-to-17 year olds were twice as likely.
Dr. Colman’s findings have practical implications for mental health professionals involved in prevention. “It’s clear that these results support the suicide contagion hypothesis, especially among younger adolescents. It most certainly supports school-based interventions as opposed to high-risk interventions aimed solely at the friends of the deceased,” Dr. Colman concluded.
The study highlights the devastating ramifications that can unintentionally result when too much attention is attributed to individual suicide cases by the public, and demonstrates the importance to re-examine current initiatives that surround the support and creation of mental health programs.
For more information, please visit: med.uOttawa.ca