Archives of Suicide Research

, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp 67-74

First online:

Preventing suicide by influencing mass-media reporting. The Viennese experience 1980–1996

  • Elmar EtzersdorferAffiliated withUniversity of Vienna
  • , Gernot SonneckAffiliated withInstitute for Medical Psychology, University of ViennaLudwig Boltzmann Institute for Social Psychiatry

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This paper reports a field experiment concerning mass-media and suicide. After the implementation of the subway system in Vienna in 1978, it became increasingly acceptable as means to commit suicide, with the suicide rates showing a sharp increase. This and the fact that the mass-media reported about these events in a very dramatic way, lead to the formation of a study-group of the Austrian Association for Suicide Prevention (ÖVSKK), which developed media guidelines and launched a media campaign in mid-1987. Subsequently, the media reports changed markedly and the number of subway-suicides and -attempts dropped more than 80% from the first to the second half of 1987, remaining at a rather low level since. Conclusions regarding the possible reduction of imitative suicidal behaviour by influencing mass-media-reports are drawn. Experiences from the media campaign are presented, as well as considerations about further research.

imitation suicide mass-media prevention Werther effect