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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 19 March, 2003, 01:33 GMT
Celebrity influence on suicides
Suicides went up after Marilyn Monroe's death in 1962
Copycat suicide attempts are much more likely when a celebrity has taken their own life, according to a US researcher.

Media coverage - especially in newspapers - is a key factor, said academic Simon Stack. Even fictional reports of a suicide have an effect, he added.

The idea that someone might take their own life after a celebrity has done so is nothing new.

In the month after Hollywood star Marilyn Monroe killed herself the national suicide rate went up by 12%.

Other studies have shown that suicides go up by about 2.5% following mass coverage of a suicide story.

Fame and fortune

The latest study is an analysis of 42 published reports investigating the impact of the media on suicide.

The way in which the media treats and writes about suicide has an enormous impact on the way people behave
Sarah Nelson, Samaritans
According to Dr Stack, of the department of Criminal Justice at Wayne State University in Detroit, one explanation is that people identify with celebrities.

"If a Marilyn Monroe with all her fame and fortune cannot endure life, the suicidal person may say: "Why should I?" he says.

This is unlikely to be the whole explanation, however. He says moves in Switzerland and Austria to change the quantity and quality of news reporting on suicides have proved successful.

Prevention

Cutting the amount of media coverage is likely to be the most important factor in the prevention of copycat suicides, he adds.

Sarah Nelson of UK emotional support charity, Samaritans, told BBC News Online: "The way in which the media treats and writes about suicide has an enormous impact on the way people behave."

The research is published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.




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