Research has demonstrated that while increased rates of actual suicide have been associated with some reporting, examples of decreased rates of actual suicide following reports have also been found. A summary of findings from a critical review of the national and international literature1 is provided below.

Characteristics of reporting associated with increased rates of suicide:

Reporting of celebrity suicide

• A series of American studies found increased rates of suicide during months in which front-page newspaper articles of celebrity suicide appeared2,3.
• A Canadian study found an increase in suicide rates in the month following the reported death of a prominent person in Quebec4.

Prominent placement of suicide reports

• A number of studies have found increased rates of suicide during the months that front-page reports of non-celebrity suicides appeared5,6,7.
Description of method and location
• Higher rates of suicide by a particular method have been found to follow the appearance of newspaper stories on a suicide by these methods8,9,10,11.
• An Austrian study conducted after the suicide death of a celebrity found a correlation between the suicide method used in those areas and high newspaper distribution post suicide12.
Where vulnerable people identify with the person who is the subject of the story
• A US study found an increase in the rate of deaths by suicide among older people following reporting of suicide in this population group13.
• An Australian study found an increase in the number of males who died by suicide following newspaper reports of suicides. The peak was three days after the report was made public14.
• A US study found that suicide stories to which a local audience has the greatest exposure are likely to produce contagion and that, in particular, local television news is a potent influence15.
Prolonged or repetitive reporting of a suicide
• An Australian study found evidence for a ‘dose response effect’, where the greater the coverage of a particular suicide, the greater the risk of an increase in subsequent suicides16.
Courts are important sources of information for media stories about suicide
• Many newspaper and broadcast news stories about suicide result from information collected by journalists at courts or coroner’s courts or from the police17. These stories are the most problematic in terms of following media guidelines for reporting of suicide due to the use and placement of the word ‘suicide’ in headlines and broadcast leads, details of the method of suicide and the prominence given to the story.

Characteristics of reporting associated with decreased rates of suicide:
*Portrayal that positions suicide as a tragic waste and an avoidable loss and focuses on the devastating effects on others.
• An Australian study of reporting following Kurt Cobain’s suicide found rates among young Australians aged from 15 to 24 were significantly lower in the month following the reporting of his death than for corresponding months in previous years. Significantly, the media were highly critical of Cobain’s decision to end his life18.
• A US study showed rates of completed and attempted suicide by young people fell following the broadcast of telemovies showing the impact of suicide19.
Reporting that does not describe method or location of death

• After the introduction of media guidelines, Austrian studies found that the number of completed and attempted suicides in the Vienna subway dropped due to less frequent reporting of suicides by that method and in that location20,21,22.

For a more comprehensive summary of the research evidence, visit the Evidence and Research page. 

1 Pirkis, J., & Blood, R. W. (2010). Suicide and the news and information media: A critical review. Canberra, ACT: Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care.
2 Wasserman, I.M. (1984). Imitation and suicide: A re-examination of the Werther effect. American Sociological Review, 49, 427-436.
3 Stack, S. (1987). Celebrities and suicide: A taxonomy and analysis, 1948-1983. American Sociological Review, 52, 401-412.
4 Tousignant, M., Mishara, BL., Caillaud, A., Fortin, V., & St-Laurent, D. (2005). The impact of media coverage of the suicide of a well-known Quebec reporter: the case of Gaëtan Girouard. Social Science & Medicine, 60, 1919-1926.
5 Phillips, D. P. (1974). The influence of suggestion on suicide: Substantive and theoretical implications of the Werther effect. American Sociological Review, 39, 340-354.
6 Stack, S. (1990). Audience receptiveness, the media and aged suicide, 1968-1980. Journal of Aging Studies, 4, 195-209.
7 Wasserman, I. M. (1992). The impact of epidemic, war, prohibition and media on suicide: United States 1910-1920. Suicide and Life Threatening Behaviour, 22, 240-254.
8 Ashton, J. R., & Donnan, S. (1979). Suicide by burning: A current epidemic. British Medical Journal, 2, 769-770.
9 Ashton, J. R., & Donnan, S. (1981). Suicide by burning as an epidemic phenomenon: An analysis of 82 deaths and inquests in England and Wales in 1978-79. Psychological Medicine, 11, 735-739.
10 Versey, M. J., Kamanyire, R., & Volans, G. N. (1999). Antifreeze poisonings give more insight into copycat behaviour (letter). British Medical Journal, 319, 1131.
11 Chan, K.P.M., Yip, P.S.F., Au, J. and Lee, D.T.S. (2005). Charcoal-burning suicide in post-transition Hong Kong. British Journal of Psychiatry, 186, 67-73.
12 Etzersdorfer, E., Voracek, M., & Sonneck, G., (2004). A dose-response relationship between imitational suicides and newspaper distribution. Archives of Suicide Research, 8, 137-145.
13 Stack, S. (1990). Op cit.
14 Hassan, R. (1995). Effects of newspaper stories on the incidence of suicide in Australia:
A research note. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 29, 480-483.
15 Romer, D., Jamiewson, P.E. & Jamieson, K.H. (2006). Are news reports of suicide contagious? A stringent test in six U.S. cities. Journal of Communication, 56, 253-270.
16 Pirkis, J. E., Burgess, P.M., Francis, R., Blood, W. & Jolley, D.J. (2006). The relationship between media reporting of suicide and actual suicide in Australia. Social Science & Medicine, 62, 2874-2886.
17 Pirkis, J., Blood, R. W., Dare, A., & Holland, K. (2008). The Media Monitoring Project: Changes in media reporting of suicide and mental health and illness in Australia. 2000/01–2006/07. Canberra, ACT: Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care.
18 Martin, G., & Koo, L. (1997). Celebrity Suicide: Did the death of Kurt Cobain affect suicides in Australia? Archives of Suicide Research, 3, 187-198.
19 Gould, M.S., & Shaffer, D. (1986). The impact of suicide in television movies. New England Journal of Medicine, 315, 690-694.
20 Etzersdorfer, E., & Sonneck, G. (1988). Preventing suicide by influencing mass media reporting: The Viennese experience 1980 – 1996. Archives of Suicide Research, 4, 67-74.
21 Etzersdorfer, E., Sonneck, G., & Nagel Kuess, S. (1992). Newspaper reports and suicide (letter). New England Journal of Medicine, 327, 502-503.
22 Sonneck, G., Etzersdorfer., E & Nagel Kuess, S. (1994). Imitative suicide on the Viennese subway. Social Science and Medicine, 38, 453-457.