Skip to main content

The Media and Suicide



The authors aim to inform readers of the theory that when newspapers, film, and television describe suicidal deaths, additional suicides may result by virtue of contagion or copy-cat effects; to review data that support and refute this theory; to present some promising and recommended ways to prevent copy-cat suicide; and to cite news-media examples of both particularly bad and good reporting.


A review of the literature on media-related suicide was conducted, which included reviewing materials published in scientific journals and data published by the U.S. Public Health Service, Centers for Disease Control, and materials from private, not-for-profit agencies.


Data support an increased number of suicides resulting from media accounts of suicide that romanticize or dramatize the description of suicidal deaths. Specific guidelines for the media that may be able to decrease these additional deaths have been devised.


Psychiatrists should be familiar with the harm that may result from improper reporting of suicide in the media since they may be called upon by reporters or family members following the suicide of one of their patients or following the suicide of a newsworthy person. Following the media guidelines available may prevent such contagion effects from occurring.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. 1.

    Phillips D: The influence of suggestion on suicide: substantive and theoretical implications of the Werther effect. Am Sociological Rev 1974; 39: 340–354

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Hawton K, Simkin S, Deeks J, et al: Effects of drug overdose in a TV drama on presentations to hospital for self-poisoning. Br Med J 1999; 318: 972–977

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Hawton K: United Kingdom legislation on pack sizes of analgesics: Background, rationale and effect of suicide and deliberate self-harm. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior 2002; 32: 223–229

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Etzersdorfer E, Sonneck G: Preventing suicide by influencing mass-media reporting: the Viennese experience, 1980–1986. Arch Suicide Res 1998; 4: 67–74

    Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Gould M, Shaffer D: The impact of suicide in television movies: evidence of imitation. N Engl J Med 1986; 315: 690–694

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Gould M, Shaffer D, Kleinman M: The impact of suicide in TV movies: replication and commentary. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior 1988; 18: 90–99

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Gould M: Suicide and the media, in Suicide Prevention: Clinical and Scientific Aspects. Edited by Hendin H, Mann J. New York, NY Academy of Science, 2001, pp 200–224

    Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Stack S: Suicide in the media: a quantitative review of studies based on nonfictional stories. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior 2005; 35: 121–133

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Litz B: Early Intervention for Trauma and Traumatic Loss. New York, Guilford, 2004

    Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Ruzek J: Dissemination of Information and Early Intervention Practices in the Context of Mass Violence or Large-Scale Disaster. National Center for PTSD, VA Palo Alto Health Care System; available at

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Howard S. Sudak M.D..

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Sudak, H.S., Sudak, D.M. The Media and Suicide. Acad Psychiatry 29, 495–499 (2005).

Download citation


  • Suicide Rate
  • Academic Psychiatry
  • Suicide Prevention
  • Contagion Effect
  • Suicidal Death