Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Logan Paul and the Suicide Contagion effect

Alex Schadenberg
Executive Director - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Newsweek recently published an excellent article by Joseph Frankel concerning the suicide contagion effect. The article is based on the video that Logan Paul posted on Youtube that showed the body of a Japanese man who died by suicide. The video achieved 6 million views before Youtube removed the posting. The Newsweek article examines the question: Is Suicide Contagious?

Sign the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition petition: Tell CBC to stop producing one-sided propaganda programs on assisted death (Link).

According to Frankel, the suicide contagion effect has been proven by many studies.
“Even though people do still wonder how a behavior as serious as suicide can be contagious, there are consistent results from so many studies that indicate that following a media story, suicide rates go up,” Madelyn Gould, an epidemiologist at Columbia University who studies suicide risk and prevention, told Newsweek. Gould also points out this is "far from the first example of the dangers of amplifying stories of suicide." 
And it’s far from the first time that media outlets have had to reckon with the question of suicide contagion: the phenomenon of increased risk of suicide after exposure to suicide, including depictions of or reporting on suicide in the media. Last May, the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why featured a graphic scene depicting a character’s suicide. The show sparked several articles examining whether the series would stoke the effect, along with a research study in JAMA Internal Medicine showing Google searches for terms related to suicidal thoughts spiked after the show’s release.
Frankel explains the history of the suicide contagion effect:
The 1772 novel The Sorrows of Young Werther tells the story of a young man who kills himself after a failed romance. It was reportedly banned in several cities for fear that young people in Europe, many of whom mimicked the protagonist’s style of dress, would take their own lives as well. This phenomenon has been dubbed the Werther effect, a term that researchers have adopted over a century after the book’s publication. 
The Werther effect is a touchstone in research and writing about suicide. But, researchers have also found a flipside in the the “Papageno effect”: reported stories that focus on people who have suicidal thoughts, and ultimately find ways of coping and surviving were associated with a decrease in the suicide rate.
After almost 20 years of experience with the assisted suicide issue, I am convinced that media articles promoting assisted suicide has an assisted suicide contagion effect. Studies and research appears to agree with this assertion. Dr Will Johnston reported that his patient became suicidal after watching the Brittany Maynard video.
Frankel states, in the article, that the media is responsible for reporting in a manner that prevents harm and he refers to the Austrian reporting guidelines but he does not refer to the World Health Organization guidelines for reporting on suicide.

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