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The association between suicide deaths and putatively harmful and protective factors in media reports [Research]

BACKGROUND:

Exposure to media reporting on suicide can lead to suicide contagion and, in some circumstances, may also lead to help-seeking behaviour. There is limited evidence for which specific characteristics of media reports mediate these phenomena.

METHODS:

This observational study examined associations between putatively harmful and protective elements of media reports about suicide in 13 major publications in the Toronto media market and subsequent suicide deaths in Toronto (2011–2014). We used multivariable logistic regression to determine whether specific article characteristics were associated with increases or decreases in suicide deaths in the 7 days after publication, compared with a control window.

RESULTS:

From 2011 to 2014, there were 6367 articles with suicide as the major focus and 947 suicide deaths. Elements most strongly and independently associated with increased suicides were a statement about the inevitability of suicide (odds ratio [OR] 1.97, confidence interval [CI] 1.07–3.62), about asphyxia by a method other than car exhaust (OR 1.72, CI 1.36–2.18), about suicide by jumping from a building (OR 1.70, CI 1.28–2.26) or about suicide pacts (OR 1.63, CI 1.14–2.35), or a headline that included the suicide method (OR 1.41, CI 1.07–1.86). Elements most strongly and independently associated with decreased suicides were unfavourable characteristics (negative judgments about the deceased; OR 1.85, CI 1.20–2.84), or mentions of railway (OR 1.61, CI 1.10–2.36) and cutting or stabbing (OR 1.59, CI 1.19–2.13) deaths, and individual murder-suicide (OR 1.50, CI 1.23–1.84).

INTERPRETATION:

This large study identified significant associations between several specific elements of media reports and suicide deaths. It suggests that reporting on suicide can have a meaningful impact on suicide deaths and that journalists and media outlets and organizations should carefully consider the specific content of reports before publication.

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