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Skeptimedia is a commentary on mass media treatment of issues concerning science, the paranormal, and the supernatural.

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Every journalist should read Ben Goldacre's article on suicide and media coverage of suicides.

Some highlights:

This week, in my crescendoing tirade against journalism, we shall review the evidence that the media actually kills people....

...it has been shown repeatedly that suicide increases in the month after a front page suicide story. There is also evidence that the effect is bigger for famous people and gruesome attempts. You may want to remember that fact for later.

Details matter, as ever. Overdoses increased by 17% in the week after a prominent overdose on Casualty (watched by 22% of the population at the time), and paracetamol [acetaminophen, Tylenol®] overdoses went up by more than others. In 1998 the Hong Kong media reported heavily on a case of carbon monoxide poisoning by a very specific method, using a charcoal burner. In the 10 months preceding the reports, there had been no such suicides. In November there were 3; then in December there were 10; and over the next year there were 40.

...After the introduction of media reporting guidelines in Austria, for example, there was a significant decrease in the number of people throwing themselves under trains....

There is a literature which I think is extremely powerful, and yet unanimously ignored by mainstream media, and that is the follow-up data on what happens later in life to people who have felt so suicidal that they have made serious attempts on their own lives. In extremis Pajonk et al followed up a large number of people who they picked up in intensive care after very serious suicide attempts. Amongst those who survived, and did not have serious psychotic illnesses, six years later, the majority were happy and well, living productive family lives, and were – we might reasonably interpolate - glad to be alive.

further reading

Copycat suicide (Werther effect) - Wikipedia

Suicide and the media from MediaWise ("Following a series of complaints about media coverage of suicide in the UK, MediaWise undertook research into journalism codes of conduct and training on the issue. This work was part of joint project with Befrienders International that included a comprehensive global review of research finding about the impact of suicide coverage ('Suicidal Behaviour and the Mass Media') conducted by Kathryn Williams and Keith Hawton, of the Centre for Suicide Research, Department of Psychiatry, Oxford University.")

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