According to several studies, publicity surrounding a suicide has been repeatedly linked to a subsequent increase in the act, particularly among young people.
After Marilyn Monroe died in August 1962, the cause listed as probable suicide, the nation mourned — publicly. In the month that followed there was sweeping news coverage, public memorials and a 12% increase in suicides. That month saw an additional 303 suicides in comparison to the year prior, according to a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.
When Robin Williams died in 2014, the world reacted similarly. The comedian’s image was everywhere, details of his untimely passing spawned countless news articles and think pieces. His death is also similarly associated with a 10% increase in suicide across the United States in the five months after his passing, according to a study published in the journal, PLOS ONE, in February.
The phenomenon is often referred to as “suicide contagion,” defined by the Department of Health and Human Services as an increase in suicides due to “the exposure to suicide or suicidal behaviors within one’s family, one’s peer group, or through media reports of suicide.”
And the overwhelming influence of a celebrity or high-profile suicide is far from a new discovery. Following the 1774 publication of Wolfgang Goethe’s “The Sorrows of Young Werther” — a book in which a young man ends his life after a failed love affair — Europe also saw a spike in suicides, particularly in men the same age as the protagonist.The outbreak prompted the novel to be banned in several European locations.
Suicide, however, has been on the rise in the US since 1999. Like most mental illnesses, it receives less preventative attention than it should. It does, however, generate a lot of revenues for pharmaceutical companies. It’s less likely the pills are accompanied by human help and counselling.
Suicide rates increased by 25% across the United States over nearly two decades ending in 2016, according to research published Thursday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Twenty-five states experienced a rise in suicides by more than 30%, the government report finds.
More than half of those who died by suicide had not been diagnosed with a mental health condition, said Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC.
“These findings are disturbing. Suicide is one of the top 10 causes of death in the US right now, and it’s one of three causes that is actually increasing recently, so we do consider it a public health problem — and something that is all around us,” Schuchat said. The other two top 10 causes of death that are on the rise are Alzheimer’s disease and drug overdoses, she noted.
In 2016 alone, about 45,000 lives were lost to suicide.
“Our data show that the problem is getting worse,” Schuchat said.
Bourdain is just the latest in a string of prominent celebrities suffering from depression who have taken their own lives. Last week, Kate Spade committed suicide; she was reportedly fixated on Robin Williams’ suicide. And suicide rates across America have been spiking: as of 2014, American suicide rates had skyrocketed to their highest rate in three decades, all the way to 13 people per 100,000, even as death rates from other causes declined markedly. Suicide was particularly common among middle-aged white people. The overall suicide rate climbed 24 percent from 1999 to 2014; in 2014, over 14,000 middle-aged white Americans committed suicide. Between 2006 and 2016, the suicide rate for white children jumped 70 percent, and the suicide rate among black children (while lower than that of white children overall) jumped 77 percent. According to USA Today: A study of pediatric hospitals released last May found admissions of patients ages 5 to 17 for suicidal thoughts and actions more than doubled from 2008 to 2015. The group at highest risk for suicide are white males between 14 and 21.