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J Epidemiol Community Health doi:10.1136/jech-2011-200707
  • Research report

Changes in suicide rates following media reports on celebrity suicide: a meta-analysis

  1. Jane Pirkis8
  1. 1Department of General Practice and Family Medicine, Center for Public Health, Medical University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria
  2. 2Journalism and Media Studies Centre, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China
  3. 3Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China
  4. 4Department of Social Work and Social Administration, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China
  5. 5School of Nursing, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China
  6. 6Department of Psychiatry, Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan, USA
  7. 7Department of Criminology, Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan, USA
  8. 8Centre for Health Policy, Programs and Economics, Melbourne School of Population Health, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr Thomas Niederkrotenthaler, Department of General Practice and Family Medicine, Center for Public Health, Medical University of Vienna, Severingasse 9, A-1090 Vienna, Austria; thomas.niederkrotenthaler{at}meduniwien.ac.at
  1. Contributors JP had the basic study idea; JP, QC, SS, DYTF, PSFY, K-wF and TN developed the study design; JP, TN, K-wF, PSFY and SS provided data; K-wF, DYTF and TN performed the analysis; TN and K-wF wrote the first draft of the manuscript; TN coordinated the revision; all authors revised the manuscript for important intellectual content and approved the final version to be submitted for publication.

  • Accepted 15 March 2012
  • Published Online First 21 April 2012

Abstract

Background A growing number of studies indicate that sensationalist reporting of suicide is associated with increases in suicide rates, but in the light of some negative findings, the issue has remained controversial. The aim of this study was to evaluate the best current evidence on the association between celebrity suicide stories and subsequent suicides.

Methods Literature searches of six data sources (Medline, Psychlit, Communication Abstracts, Education Resources Information Center, Dissertation Abstracts and Australian Public Affairs Database (APAIS)) were conducted. Studies were included if they (1) adopted an ecological design, (2) focused on celebrity suicide, (3) had completed suicide as outcome variable, (4) analysed suicide rates across all suicide methods, (5) used data from after World War II and (6) satisfied basic quality criteria.

Results 10 studies with totally 98 suicides by celebrities met the criteria. The pooled estimate indicated a change in suicide rates (suicides per 100 000 population) of 0.26 (95% CI 0.09 to 0.43) in the month after a celebrity suicide. There was substantial heterogeneity between studies, which was explained by the type of celebrity (entertainment elite vs others) and the region of study, as indicated by mixed-effects meta-regression. The region-of-study–specific effect of reporting a suicide by an entertainment celebrity was 0.64 (95% CI 0.55 to 0.73) in North America, 0.58 (95% CI 0.47 to 0.68) in Asia, 0.36 (95% CI −0.10 to 0.61) in Australia and 0.68 (95% CI 0.51 to 0.85) in Europe. There was no indication of publication bias.

Conclusions Reports on celebrity suicide are associated with increases in suicides. Study region and celebrity type appear to have an impact on the effect size.

Footnotes

  • Funding This work was supported by the Faculty of Social Science of the University of Hong Kong and a GRF grant (HKU 784210M) and benefited from a working meeting held in Hong Kong in 2010. The funding bodies had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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