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May 02, 2014 10:34 AM EDT

Media Reporting Of Suicide May Increase Teen Risk

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Heightened news media coverage of suicide may have a significant on the impact on the initiation of some teenage suicide clusters, according to a recent study.

Researchers found that media reports that describe a suicide in considerable detail are more likely to be associated with so-called copycat suicides.

"Our findings indicate that the more sensational the coverage of the suicides, and the more details the story provides, then the more likely there are to be more suicides," lead author Dr. Madelyn Gould from the New York State Psychiatric Institute said in a statement.

For the study, researchers compared a national sample of adolescent suicide clusters with a matched control of non-cluster suicides.

They identified 48 suicide clusters in young people aged between 13 and 20 years old from across the USA between 1988 and 1996. Each cluster included three to 11 victims who killed themselves within 6 months of the first suicide. All cluster communities were matched with two non-cluster control communities in which suicides of similarly aged young people occurred, from non-adjacent counties within the same state.

Researchers also examined 469 newspapers for stories about suicide published in the days between the first and second suicides in the cluster communities, and for the same length of time after the control suicide in non-cluster communities.

They found that significantly more newspaper stories about suicidal individuals were published after the first cluster suicide (average 7.42 stories) than after a suicide that was not part of a cluster (average 5.14). These stories were more likely to be printed on the front page.

"Although we cannot show causality, our study indicates that media portrayals of suicide might have a role in the emergence of some teenage suicide clusters," Gould said. "The findings constitute the first available information on the circumstances differentiating a suicide that leads to a suicide cluster from one that does not."

Gould said the research also emphasizes the importance of adherence to media guidelines that discourage reporters from using too much detailed or graphic representations of suicides.

The findings were recently published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal.

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