Suicide Contagion is a Real Threat

On Tuesday, fashion designer Kate Spade was found dead in her apartment due to suicide. Then, Friday morning found Anthony Bourdain, beloved chef, and storyteller unresponsive in his Strasbourg hotel room. Cause of death, suicide. Experts on mental health agree that multiple celebrity suicides have the potential to cause an increase in what they call suicide contagion. This process is where the suicide of one or more people can add to suicidal behaviors among others. Those most at risk are those who already have the thoughts or a risk factor for suicide.

For four months following the death by suicide of comedian Robin Williams in 2014, there was a 9.85% increase in suicides according to a study.

That study looked into monthly suicide data from the US CDC dating from 1999 until 2015. The near 10% increase was mostly among middle-aged men who used the method that described Williams’ death. Researchers say they become primarily concerned with suicides by celebrities because of all the attention focused on the tragedy interestingly. It makes people more likely to identify with the said person.

After exposure to suicide or the attempt thereof in one’s family or peer group, the risk of suicide contagion can decrease by having all those close to the victim evaluated by a mental health professional.

The Risks of Suicide Contagion and Isolated Suicide

Around the world, nearly 800,000 commit suicide annually. That equates to almost one person every 40 seconds. 2015 had more than 78% of those suicides occur in low and middle-income countries.

Over half of the people in this study were not known to have mental health conditions. A multitude of circumstances contributed to the deaths among those both with and without known conditions.

While giving support to those already at risk with mental health issues is essential, we need to do more. It’s important to make sure a viewpoint for this is through the lens of public health. We need to make sure it’s simple for individuals to get the resources they need and that we’re reducing contributing factors.

Suicide hardly ever happens at the snap of a finger. There are also risk factors like family history of suicide, successful or not, or child maltreatment; mental disorders; substance or alcohol abuse; or feelings of hopelessness among other factors.

It is important to know that suicide is preventable. Death need not be an acceptable or expected outcome of depression. With heart disease or forms of cancer, professionals create a calculator of risk factors. The same thing should be done with suicide, says Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.

The four most common disorders with the highest increase of risk toward suicide are bipolar, depression, PTSD, and psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia. When these problems especially go left untreated, the risk of self-harm and suicide increase.