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.
- mass media
- famous persons
- mental health
- social epidemiology
- social science
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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.