Susan L. Siegfreid, MD. Dr. Siegfreid has no financial relationships with companies related to this material.
STUDY TYPE: Time series analysis
Widespread reporting of suicide deaths appears to trigger additional “copycat” suicides, a phenomenon known as the Werther effect (named after Goethe’s novel The Sorrows of Young Werther, which inspired suicides among young men after the novel’s publication in 1774). For example, a recent study found that suicides increased by 13% following media reports of celebrity suicides (Niederkrotenthaler T et al, BMJ 2020;368:m575). But can media attention be harnessed to promote help-seeking behaviors and ultimately reduce suicide rates?
This study explored whether media coverage of American hip-hop artist Logic’s song “1-800-273-8255” (about a young man who recovers from a suicidal crisis after calling the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) affected daily Lifeline calls and suicides. The researchers obtained information about Lifeline calls and suicides from the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the National Center for Health Statistics, respectively, from January 2010 to December 2018.
They also examined daily Twitter posts to estimate the amount and duration of public attention generated by the song. Review of Twitter posts identified three peaks of attention, all corresponding to major media events: the song’s release (April 27, 2017), the 2017 MTV Music Awards (August 27, 2017), and the 2018 Grammy Awards (August 28, 2018). The researchers identified 34 days of high impact associated with these events, as defined by the strongest public attention to the song, to evaluate the association of media attention with Lifeline calls and suicides.
Over the 34-day period covering the three media events, calls to the Lifeline increased by 6.9% compared to the expected number of calls (p<0.001), and suicides decreased by 5.5% over the same period (p=0.02).
We might think that social media has a mostly detrimental effect on individuals’ mental health, but this study shows that it can reduce suicide rates when harnessed to promote positive messages about coping with suicidal crises.
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