Could Suicide Be Contagious?

Purple flowers in a graveyardFriends and family of suicide victims are more likely to attempt suicide themselves, according to a British study published in BMJ Open.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide was the 10th-leading cause of death in 2013. Adults ages 18-24 report the highest rate of suicidal thoughts, and a total of 9.3 million adults (3.9%) reported serious suicidal thoughts during 2013. Men are four times more likely than women to attempt suicide, representing 77.9% of all suicides.

Can the Suicide of a Loved One Raise Suicide Risk?

To explore the effects suicide can have on friends and family, researchers looked at 3,432 university staff members and students ages 18-40. Each participant had experienced a sudden death of a loved one due to either suicide or natural causes.

The results showed a clear correlation between the suicide of a friend or family member and negative outcomes for the survivor. Participants whose loved ones had died by suicide were 80% more likely to quit school or work, with a total of 8% dropping out or resigning.

Participants whose loved ones died from suicide were 65% more likely to attempt suicide themselves than if the loved one had died due to other causes. Overall, the risk of suicide when a loved one had died by suicide was 1 in 10. People whose loved ones had died by suicide felt there was more stigma surrounding the death, potentially making it more difficult to cope with their grief.

This is not the first study to find a contagion effect with suicide. Suicide deaths of celebrities can increase the overall suicide rate, according to a Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health study that found a 12% spike in suicides following the apparent suicide of Marilyn Monroe. A 1998 study of suicide rates in Vienna suggested changing the way the media reports on suicide could also lower the suicide rate.

Understanding Suicide

Suicide is preventable, and many of the factors that lead to it—such as depression, anxiety, trauma, or relationship difficulties—can be responsive to therapy.

If you or someone you love are in crisis and in need of immediate help for suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. The hotline provides crisis intervention, access to local resources, and education about mental health.

References:

  1. Etzersdorfer, E., & Sonneck, G. (1998). Preventing suicide by influencing mass-media reporting. The Viennese experience 1980–1996. Archives of Suicide Research, 4(1), 67-74. doi:10.1080/13811119808258290
  2. Friends bereaved by suicide more likely to kill self: Study. (2016, January 27). Retrieved from http://www.ndtv.com/health/friends-bereaved-by-suicide-more-likely-to-kill-self-study-1270682
  3. Stack, S. (2003). Media coverage as a risk factor in suicide. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, 57(4), 238-240. doi:10.1136/jech.57.4.238
  4. Suicide facts at a glance 2015. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/suicide-datasheet-a.pdf
  5. Suicide risk rises among family, friends of suicide victims: Study. (2016, January 27). Retrieved from http://health.usnews.com/health-news/articles/2016-01-26/suicide-risk-rises-among-family-friends-of-suicide-victims-study

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  • Alice

    Alice

    February 2nd, 2016 at 3:15 PM

    And just today I think that I read about two Texas teens who were friends who both died from apparent suicide. I definitely think that in many cases, it is all about talking to another person about the intent and the other person starts to believe that this could be the right choice for them to make as well. I wish that this was not the case but I would think that it is likely especially in teen circles for kids with the same sorts of issues and problems to hang out together and they are so impressionable that if one decides to do it then another could easily think that this is the answer for them as well.

  • chip

    chip

    February 4th, 2016 at 3:56 PM

    It is very understandable that if this happens with someone that you are close to and that you love that you could go to a very dark place and might even consider this for yourself.
    I would hope that you could see that this is not the answer and that you would be able to seek out alternative help.
    I know that it might feel like it is the right thing at the moment but so many more people get hurt after you leave them in this way.’
    It is a grief beyond words, nothing can help you understand the grief of those who have been left behind by a person who decides that suicide is their way out.

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