Suicide reporting - key phenomena
Related to the phenomenon of ‘imitational’ suicides are the concepts of ‘social contagion’ and suicide ‘clusters’; labelling a place a suicide ‘hot spot’ is also connected. The media can play a role in contributing to all of these.
These terms are explained below:
- An imitational suicide is defined as an imitation of a suicidal act (completed suicide or attempted suicide) by another person. The person attempting suicide knows about the act either from personal/local knowledge or due to accounts/depictions on television and in other media.
- ‘Social contagion’ refers to a phenomenon that occurs when a suicidal act (completed suicide or attempted suicide) serves as a ‘model’ or example for subsequent suicidal behaviour. The ‘model’ may be a famous person or celebrity, but could also be a relative, friend or neighbour living in a local community. The contagious effect may be precipitated by pervasive grief or over-identification with a person who has died or the circumstances under which they took their life.
- Suicide ‘cluster’ is a group of suicides or suicide attempts, or both, that occur closer together in time and space than would normally be expected in a given community.
- ‘Hot spot’ is a colloquial term that can have one of two meanings in relation to suicide.
First, it can refer to a specific geographical area with a relatively high rate of suicide among its resident population, for example a specific town. Second, it can mean a specific (usually public) site such as a bridge that is frequently used as a location for people to take their own lives.
A site that has achieved notoriety as a result of a suicide taking place – especially if it is reported widely in the media – may attract people to that site, transforming it into a known site for suicides.