Suicide continues to be a serious public health issue across the world. Reporting and portrayal of suicidal behavior in the media may have a potential to negatively influence and encourage suicidal acts to predisposed teens when exposed to such stimuli. Evidence continues to accumulate on the significant impact of media coverage on suicide ideation. Ayers et al. (2017) conducted a quasi-experimental study to find out if there is an increase in suicide search after the release of 13 Reasons Why. They discovered that there is an increase of 900,000 to 1.5 million searches related to suicide. Dating between March 31, 2017 and April 18, 2017 phrases like “how to kill yourself” and “how to commit suicide” surged by 15% to 44% in Google Trends. Moreover, the method used in presenting suicide content in media has a responsibility in raising warnings to its audience. Younger people are more susceptible to the influence of what they see.
In addition to this, the consistent media coverage of suicide is also seen as a trigger to increase suicide ideation. To answer the query, this essay will examine 1.) how graphic depiction of suicide in modern media exert a negative influence on its audience, 2.) media’s responsibility in portraying suicide contents in modern media, 3.) mass media imitation theories- werther effect and papageno effect. Furthermore, prior studies and researches will be used to support the topics being stated in the essay but some of the evidence to date is very indirect and not fully satisfactory which require more room for further analysis in the future. It just feels a little bit wordy. Maybe try to restructure to something like: Moreover, the exposure to suicidal behavior in the media may have the potential to encourage suicidal acts to predisposed teens.
First, modern media such as television and movies have the capabilities to offer a well-intentioned message about mental health, but some experts say that this can also trigger as a model to predisposed teen to a larger context. In addition, the media can have a potential to misinform the public about suicide. It can be dangerous if the reported suicide is glorified and sensationalized. Giving the impression that suicide is simply triggered by daily stressors like problems at work, school, or relationship instead of diving deeper into possible triggers like mental illness and/or substance abuse. In a critical review by Jane Pirkis and colleagues in 2010, they found 47 studies that are associated between presentation of suicide in entertainment media and suicidal behavior were identified. Film and Television has the highest association. In total of 27 studies stated that most of the film and television portrayals of suicide and actual suicidal behavior exist and concluded that these platforms may impose a negative influence on its viewers. Next in line is music with 19 studies stating that two thirds of these given evidence suggest that depiction of suicide in songs and actual suicidal behavior exist. Lastly, a single study in plays found that fictional play about suicide has no impact on its potential audience members. The large amount of studies implying that television and film has a high-level influence that expose explicit details discussing suicide can affect a predisposed teen poses a problem that deserves attention.
Second, every media creator has a responsibility to raise awareness in creating censorship and adhere guidelines before showing contents including suicide. In 2008, the World Health Organization developed a set of guidelines for media professionals to decrease the number of suicide imitation in their material. These guidelines include: “Detailed discussion of the method used in a given completed or attempted suicide should be avoided, because a step-by-step description may prompt vulnerable people to copy the act” (p. 8). The goal of these guidelines is to make sure that they warn their audience to not repeat or copy the way they portrayed suicide in the scene. Giving a warning to an audience to an incoming unpleasant stimulus can help them decrease the startle response. Unfortunately, trigger warnings are not yet researched and proven its effectiveness to reduce intrusive symptoms such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The only research conducted to trigger warnings is focused on higher education and if they should be used in classrooms or not.
Lastly, the theories that correlates to the relationship between media portrayal of suicide and suicidal behaviors can be a factor that is significant in the social construction of reality for the vulnerable audience. Mass media imitation theory suggest that if portraying suicide can affect an individual negatively, it can also work the other way around (positive model). Werther Effect, introduced by David Phillips, indicates a negative and provoking effect of media portrayal. On the other hand, Papageno Effect is proposed by Niederkrotenhaler and colleagues, it is the effect of mass media that can present positive alternatives to suicide crisis. According to a systematic review conducted by Merike Sisask and Airi Varnik (2010) about media roles in suicide prevention, they stated that, “based on the results of the current systematic review more research is available about provocative outcomes of irresponsible media reports inducing an increase in suicidal behaviors after publicized suicide stories than for protective effects” (p. 3). Mass media can demonstrate the danger of suicide contagion. Creators should consider how their copying approach may create the same vulnerability and danger to young viewers instead of imposing a positive message to them.
In conclusion, there is a subsequent effect in portraying suicide in mass media contents. Parents and educators should be aware of the increasingly larger youth audience that is expose to a larger amount of public characterization of suicide. Suicide is a dimensional issue. There could be multiple causes and that includes mental illnesses that may have been unconsciously neglected. To the media creators, be aware of considering preventive guidelines in reporting or showing deaths by suicide to avoid misleading the viewers and end up glorifying this tragedy. Use the story to inform and educate your audience about the causes and treatments they that are available. This should encourage producers and editors to remain aware of their potentially influential role in future suicides.
- Ayers, J. W., Althouse, B. M., Leas, E. C., Dredze, M., & Allem, J. (2017). Internet searches for suicide following the release of 13 Reasons Why. JAMA Internal Medicine, 177(10), 1527. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2017.3333
- International Association for Suicide Prevention. (2000). Preventing Suicide: A Resource for Media Professionals. World Health Organization (WHO), 8.
- Pirkis, J., Blood, W., Sutherland, G., & Currier, D. (2018). Suicide and the entertainment media. Mindframe, 3-4.
- Sisask, M., & Värnik, A. (2012). Media Roles in Suicide Prevention: A Systematic Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 9(1), 3. doi:10.3390/ijerph9010123