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Role of media reports in completed and prevented suicide: Werther v. Papageno effects

  • Thomas Niederkrotenthaler (a1), Martin Voracek (a2), Arno Herberth (a3), Benedikt Till (a4), Markus Strauss (a5), Elmar Etzersdorfer (a6), Brigitte Eisenwort (a6) and Gernot Sonneck (a7)...
Extract
Background

Media reporting of suicide has repeatedly been shown to trigger suicidal behaviour. Few studies have investigated the associations between specific media content and suicide rates. Even less is known about the possible preventive effects of suicide-related media content.

Aims

To test the hypotheses that certain media content is associated with an increase in suicide, suggesting a so-called Werther effect, and that other content is associated with a decrease in suicide, conceptualised as a Papageno effect. Further, to identify classes of media articles with similar reporting profiles and to test for associations between these classes and suicide.

Method

Content analysis and latent class analysis (LCA) of 497 suicide-related print media reports published in Austria between 1 January and 30 June 2005. Ecological study to identify associations between media item content and short-term changes in suicide rates.

Results

Repetitive reporting of the same suicide and the reporting of suicide myths were positively associated with suicide rates. Coverage of individual suicidal ideation not accompanied by suicidal behaviour was negatively associated with suicide rates. The LCA yielded four classes of media reports, of which the mastery of crisis class (articles on individuals who adopted coping strategies other than suicidal behaviour in adverse circumstances) was negatively associated with suicide, whereas the expert opinion class and the epidemiological facts class were positively associated with suicide.

Conclusions

The impact of suicide reporting may not be restricted to harmful effects; rather, coverage of positive coping in adverse circumstances, as covered in media items about suicidal ideation, may have protective effects.

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Copyright
Corresponding author
Dr Thomas Niederkrotenthaler, Department of Medical Psychology, Center for Public Health, Medical University of Vienna, Severingasse 9, A-1090 Vienna, Austria. E-mail: thomas.niederkrotenthaler@meduniwien.ac.at
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Declaration of interest

None.

Footnotes
References
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Role of media reports in completed and prevented suicide: Werther v. Papageno effects

  • Thomas Niederkrotenthaler (a1), Martin Voracek (a2), Arno Herberth (a3), Benedikt Till (a4), Markus Strauss (a5), Elmar Etzersdorfer (a6), Brigitte Eisenwort (a6) and Gernot Sonneck (a7)...
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eLetters

The Protective Effect of Media on Suicidal Behavior

Anum S Khan, Doctor, Allama Iqbal Medical College
16 June 2017

Over the last few decades, reports of suicide often highlight the different vistas of information. The omnipresence of social media has increased prompt reporting of suicides especially celebrity deaths. In addition, some television shows have come under scrutiny as they purportedly “glorify” suicides. While the existence of the phenomenon known as the “suicide contagion” has been endorsed by several mental health experts; however, the precise causality of suicides is often hard to explain as suicide is a complicated process that does not solely depend on the concepts of “modeling” of “identification”.

In 2012, Sisask and Varnik employed a metanalysis on association between suicide reporting and completed suicides. Among the 56 publications included- 40 articles supported the “Werther Effect”- the phenomenon that endorses the positive association of media reporting and suicidal behavior. The same review highlighted a strong possibility of bias as negative associations may be undermined when such reporting occurs. [1] Additionally, most studies show positive associations in reporting of a particular method of suicide with suicide by that mode. [1] It is not clear that the rate of suicide was increased as a result of the reporting. The effects of underreporting may manifest as an increased reporting of one method of suicide more than another which is deemed less violent.

At the other end of the spectrum is the protective “Papageno Effect” that theorizes that media can play a role in decreasing suicidal tendencies. The discrepancy in the number of studies on the Werther and Papageno effect is interesting. Niederskrotenthaler et al found that the reporting of suicides was culpable of increased suicidal attempts; however, the use of media for protective information and crisis intervention decreased suicidal behaviors. [2]

Suicide is a sensitive subject and must be approached with the utmost responsibility, however; the importance of the reporting without embellishment may serve as an important platform for discussion about the causes behind suicides. The 2015 statistics on suicide rates reflect an increased rate in the middle aged individuals (45-65 years of age). [3] This is a population that is not usually considered “vulnerable” to suicidal behavior. The underlying reasons may be attributed to mental health issues and economic difficulties. There is no panacea for these conditions but, discussions about the identification and intervention for risk subjects may have a protective effect on suicide behavior.

Suicides and their occurrences must not be given the status of “taboo” for a misplaced label of societal stability. Stigmatization of such subjects has negative consequences on awareness of warning signs and timely intervention. Media can be an important tool for crisis intervention and support. Responsible media can impart the much needed “Papageno effect” which can serve as a support system for the population facing mental health difficulties and social issues. More studies are needed on the Papageno effect to validate this protective effect.

References:

1) Merike Sisask & Airi Värnik. Media Roles in Suicide Prevention: A Systematic Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, Jan 2012, 9(1), 123–138. http://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph9010123

2)Thomas Niederkrotenthaler, Martin Voracek, Arno Herberth, Benedikt Till, Markus Strauss, ElmarEtzersdorfer, Brigitte Eisenwort, Gernot Sonneck. The British Journal of Psychiatry Sep 2010, 197 (3) 234-243; DOI: 10.1192/bjp.bp.109.074633

3) https://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/

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Conflict of interest: None Declared

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