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Media Medicine United States Science

US Suicides Spiked 10 Percent After Robin Williams's Death, Study Finds (bbc.com) 245

dryriver shares a report from the BBC: U.S. suicide rates spiked in the months after Robin Williams killed himself in 2014, according to researchers. In the five months after the actor's death there were 10% more suicides than might be expected, or 1,841 extra cases, PLOS One journal reports. The potential risk of copycat incidents after celebrity cases is known to public health bodies. It cannot be known for certain if his death led to the spike but it appeared to be connected, the new study said. Experts say "irresponsible" media coverage of suicides can play a big part in copycat cases. At the time of his death, the Samaritans warned about a large number of news articles giving too much detail about the nature of his suicide, against media guidelines. Guidance from the World Health Organization, the Independent Press Standards Organization's editors' code of practice, the Ofcom broadcasting code and the BBC's editorial guidelines all advise against going into explicit detail about the methods used. However, researchers said there was "substantial evidence" that many media outlets had tended to deviate from these guidelines.

For the latest study, they looked at the monthly suicide rates from the U.S. government Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between January 1999 and December 2015 to see if there had been a spike. They found there were 18,690 suicides between August and December 2014 compared with the 16,849 cases they would have expected. In the weeks after Williams's death, there was a "drastic" increase in references to suicide and death in news media reports, as well as more posts on an internet suicide forum researchers monitored, the study found. David Fink, one of the study's authors, from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, said research had previously shown that suicide rates increased following a high-profile celebrity suicide, but this was a first time such a study had been done within the era of the 24-hour news cycle. Lorna Fraser, from the Samaritans' media advisory service, said: "This study builds on a strong body of research evidence that shows that irresponsible or overly detailed depictions of suicide can have a devastating impact. In the case of celebrities, the potential for someone at risk to make an emotional connection and over-identify with them is greater, in some cases even to interpret their death as affirmation that they could take their own life."

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US Suicides Spiked 10 Percent After Robin Williams's Death, Study Finds

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  • by Camembert ( 2891457 ) on Thursday February 08, 2018 @03:10AM (#56087963)
    A cousin committed suicide. It is something you’d think happens to other families, until it happens in your own family.
    By our understanding his close family was living and caring, they didn’t expect it. Only when looking back afterwards they realised that he had gradually become more serious.
    We wondered it we could have prevented it. Linking back to the article, I feel it is important to indeed not overly detail a celebrity’s suicide and to stress the professional help and counseling that exists. Anything to lower the barrier to seeking out help is welcome.
    • by Gravis Zero ( 934156 ) on Thursday February 08, 2018 @03:33AM (#56088005)

      We wondered it we could have prevented it. Linking back to the article, I feel it is important to indeed not overly detail a celebrity’s suicide and to stress the professional help and counseling that exists. Anything to lower the barrier to seeking out help is welcome.

      Even if people want to get help, it can be prohibitively expensive. If you want to get more people help then you should be fighting for a national healthcare program.

      • Well this was in a European country with decent universal healthcare. But i agree it is a national service that is worth fighting for.
      • Suicide hotlines are free and plentiful.

        Walking into a hospital saying you want to kill yourself will likely result in medical attention regardless of cost.

        If you live in America, you either have so-called Obamacare, Medicare, or private insurance - all three of which provide for free/low co-pay psychiatric care.

        But yes, if you want to schedule an hour of story-time each week with a psychiatrist in a downtown office building and explore your parents feelings toward you, yes, it can get expensive.

        • by Gravis Zero ( 934156 ) on Thursday February 08, 2018 @10:41AM (#56088987)

          Spoken like a true asshole who doesn't have the slightest fucking clue.

          • I have the slightest fucking clue, having been there with family members while on private insurance, medicaid (for the poor, not the elderly, and no insurance.

            Each one has hoops to go thru, but care was available, at a cost we could afford.

            Although, I am still a true asshole, but I don't see how that's relevant to the other poster's point.

            • I have the slightest fucking clue, having been there with family members while on private insurance, medicaid (for the poor, not the elderly, and no insurance.

              Feel free to explain how a homeless person with a mental illness is supposed to afford that? It's estimated that 1/3 of the homeless have mental health issues, so this isn't a strawman argument, it's a real problem.

              • by Rakarra ( 112805 )

                Treatment is available, but in the US, you cannot treat someone, even for mental issues, against their wishes.
                You can only forcibly treat someone if their illness is considered violently dangerous to others.

                In my state, the number of homeless on the streets went up a huge amount and has been an out of control problem ever since when the governor closed the mental hospitals.

            • You have a partially valid point about American insurance, but you miss the complications of applying (there are plenty of people who qualify for medicaid but don't have it because they haven't been sick yet and can't be bothered). And you miss the middle class and the wealthy -- some people have plenty of money, but still choose not to seek treatment because they don't want to spend money (and many die because of that).

              However, your belief that therapy is all useless story time is grossly ignorant. It is i

        • Walking into a hospital saying you want to kill yourself will likely result in medical attention regardless of cost.

          Sure, but you'll still be on the hook for thousands of dollars. It's not free, they just can't refuse you treatment. Adding a new large debt will surely alleviate the depression and suicidal thoughts!

          • by dcw3 ( 649211 )

            Walking into a hospital saying you want to kill yourself will likely result in medical attention regardless of cost.

            Sure, but you'll still be on the hook for thousands of dollars. It's not free, they just can't refuse you treatment. Adding a new large debt will surely alleviate the depression and suicidal thoughts!

            It's not like you're going to need that money if you slit your wrists. And, if you're destitute, you won't be paying anyway...the hospitals have to suck that up, and it's one of the reasons why we have to pay $30 for an aspirin in an ER, to help pay for those who can't.

            • Even if you won't be paying, you'll spend the rest of your life being hounded by the debt you can't pay or at least a few years dealing with bankruptcy troubles. At any rate, suicidal people aren't usually in the most rational frame of mind and will tend not to choose an option so expensive that it appears to remove any hope for their financial future. They'll see it simply as another reason to give up on the future and escape life.

        • There's no health care provider called "Obamacare". It's just a combination of Medicare and private insurers.

      • is a common joke phrase I used to think nothing about. A friend of mine with a history of mental illness in his family pointed out that the reason depressed people cut themselves is that the only way to get mental health services without a boatload of cash is to be an active danger to yourself or others. Not 'could be a danger' but actually a danger; e.g. you need evidence that you're going to something violent in the next 24 hours.

        Basically the mentally ill will hurt themselves when they feel an attack
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Solandri ( 704621 )
        You're seriously positing that Robin Williams committed suicide because he was unable to afford healthcare?

        The long-term suicide rate in the U.S. has been fairly consistent [static-economist.com], while much of the EU's was nearly twice as high in comparison, until it came down in the last three decades. So if there's any correlation to nationalized healthcare, it's negative. There are lots of good arguments for nationalized healthcare, but this isn't one of them.
        • I'm just going to point out your interpretation is not what your facts indicate. Seems like as Europe phased in national health care, their suicide rate halved. They may have started with a higher baseline, but that doesn't seem relevant.

        • You're seriously positing that Robin Williams committed suicide because he was unable to afford healthcare?

          No, don't be ridiculous.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 08, 2018 @04:18AM (#56088109)

      We wondered it we could have prevented it.

      You? At that time? Probably not.

      I once were in a spot like that. Contemplating suicide as a way out. People who call it an 'easy' way out doesn't know what they are talking about and to be frank, they are doing more harm than good.
      We are looking for a way out, if it is an easy one or not doesn't matter.
      I went so far as to decide on place and method.
      Having all this planned gave me enough calm/strength/whatever to find another alternative that happened to work out.
      In my case the knowledge that I was in control of whether I live or not is what made me survive.

      The whole taboo around suicide and people using all sorts of names to make suicide a shameful thing only does one thing.
      It keeps us from discussing this option with other people before we take our lives.
      Making suicide legal, providing medical assistance and counseling when it is decided upon and primarily making it accepted to talk about would prevent way more suicides than the current hard stance against it.

      VNV Nation - Illusion [youtube.com]

    • I am sorry for your loss.
  • by pablo_max ( 626328 ) on Thursday February 08, 2018 @03:26AM (#56087989)

    I would be curious to know if there is any correlation between an increase in population density and the number of suicides. Also interesting would be suicide rates pre and post social media days.
    Thinking about it a knew / know a surprising number of people who have taken that road or attempted to take that road. Most "seemed" normal enough.

    It is hard to imagine how people get to the state of overriding their self-preservation instincts.

    • Suicide rates are studied for correlations to just about everything. In Canada the lowest density areas of our country have a suicide rate slightly more than 7 times greater than our cities. However it is far more complicated than that. The 7 times greater may not actually mean rural is worse for you, it's actually a little bit like a simpson's paradox https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org] . I'll leave it to the reader to figure out why.
    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo@world3.nBLUEet minus berry> on Thursday February 08, 2018 @04:39AM (#56088159) Homepage Journal

      It is hard to imagine how people get to the state of overriding their self-preservation instincts.

      One of the effects of depression is that you start to think negatively about everything, and react negatively to everything. Even when good things happen, your brain automatically sees them in a negative light.

      For example, if someone is kind to you, shows some concern, normally you might be happy about that. But when you have depression your mind looks for ways to feel bad about it... Maybe they don't really care, or maybe you feel frustration that you can't tell them how you really feel because it might upset them, or maybe you feel lonely because if they are happy and kind they must not understand you. Your whole world is seen through this lens.

      After some time it starts to seem like there is no way back, no way to end the suffering other than death. It starts to look attractive even, a way out and a way to end the pain. After all, animals with serious illnesses or injuries are usually put down so that they don't suffer, and in some countries humans have that right too.

      To anyone feeling that way, please know that there is a way back. You can recover and feel okay again. You just need to seek help, and know that there are people out there who understand and genuinely care.

      • Yeah, I get the reasoning. I understand on an intellectual level that depression is a sickness and in fact it is actually addictive to the person due to the chemicals produced by your body.

        It is just hard, personally, to imagine that I could be in a situation where I would think that death was the favorable outcome. Maybe if I was terminally ill and could only look forward to extreme pain, but even then I doubt my mind would accept there as no hope of somehow pulling through.

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          I suppose the other aspect is that you get tired of feeling that way. It's the same with physical pain and illness... Yeah, in theory there might be some breakthrough, you might find a doctor who can help you or make a miracle recovery... But living with it day in, day out for a long time grinds you down.

          • The closest I got was when I had partly gotten over depression, and felt it start to worsen again, towards my earlier state. It was really tempting to make absolutely sure I wouldn't be that depressed again.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 08, 2018 @06:56AM (#56088377)

          That's the "point" of depression. It's not addiction, it's a change in your core personality or state of mind. The basic concept of "things being better" is beyond your comprehension, utterly alien to you. You *know* that you have no future, you *know* that there's no point in anything, you *know* that things can never change because to contemplate otherwise is simply absurd.

          And after enough of that, persistent suicidal desires can form and take root. It's the same as any other behavioural change or response to environmental stimuli. Because every day is the same as the previous day - pointless and full of reminders of everything that's gone wrong and that everything will continue to go wrong forever more.

          Whenever a truck passes you on the road, you're silently wishing that it would swerve and paste you over the floor. Whenever you go to bed, you're hoping that you simply don't wake up tomorrow. And when this never happens (because sudden accidental death is relatively unlikely in modern society), you dream about just getting the damn thing done yourself. Interestingly enough, depression serves to actively impede this process because its main externally noticeable symptom is to obliterate your interest, motivation and ability to concentrate on anything - including the one remaining thing that you may actively desire at this point (death).

      • by pkphilip ( 6861 ) on Thursday February 08, 2018 @10:25AM (#56088935)

        As someone who used to battle suicidal thoughts for years let me offer some perspective.

        For a long time there was a single thought that would go through my mind - almost constantly, even when I wasn't really *feeling* depressed. The thought was of stabbing myself in the chest or stomach with a large kitchen knife or cutting myself in a way which would kill me.

        The reason I am putting an * around the word feeling is because I wasn't always self-aware of my deeply depressed state.. Actually, there were times I would even feel euphoric but yet that thought of inflicting such injuries upon myself would constantly go through my mind. By constantly, I mean every few minutes (if not every few seconds).

        The thought was that this act would release me - that it would give me a sense of relief. I am not surprised that some people give in to this senseless feeling.

        For myself, I escaped because I turned to religion. Those thoughts don't cross my mind anymore and haven't anymore. I recognise now that there are forces out there which don't want me alive and that there is also a benevolent personality out there (God) who wants me to live and thrive.

        I realise that this thought may be scorned or mocked on this site and others. But for me it saved my life.

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          Thanks for sharing your experience. It's not uncommon I think. Often depression comes with a feeling of frustration and helplessness. Self harm is a powerful way to take some control of your life, doing something that is permanent and irreversible and meaningful, even if the meaning is... Negative isn't the right word.

        • by djinn6 ( 1868030 )

          For myself, I escaped because I turned to religion. Those thoughts don't cross my mind anymore and haven't anymore. I recognise now that there are forces out there which don't want me alive and that there is also a benevolent personality out there (God) who wants me to live and thrive.

          I realise that this thought may be scorned or mocked on this site and others. But for me it saved my life.

          I think you still consider yourself powerless. The idea that you're not strong enough or worthy enough to keep living for your own sake is so ingrained that you need someone else is out there who wants you to stay alive. But really, that's not necessary. Living for your own sake is perfectly fine, as billions of atheists do everyday. So I hope one day you can become your own God. Or perhaps even someone else's God.

          • Only psychopaths can put up with total apathy or hatred from everyone they meet. For other people it is very much a form of torture. That's why "living for your own sake" isn't really possible for most people. True, atheists don't need a belief in any deity, but they do need friends or loved ones somewhere in their life. Religious people constantly believe at least one being cares about them. That's probably why religious people tend to live longer... you cannot outlive your deity.

          • by Rakarra ( 112805 )

            I think you still consider yourself powerless. The idea that you're not strong enough or worthy enough to keep living for your own sake is so ingrained that you need someone else is out there who wants you to stay alive.

            That's true, and it's one of the big draws of AA, and why AA sucks (useless) for a lot of people, because it teaches you that alcoholism is a disease that everyone is too weak to combat themselves. Mostly bullshit, but some people NEED that message and can only exist under it.

          • Living for your own sake is perfectly fine, as billions of atheists do everyday.

            That's not the main point, though. It's fine, I'll agree, but it may not be possible. pkphilip apparently had great difficulty with it, turned to religion, and stopped feeling suicidal. I consider this a Good Thing.

        • by nasch ( 598556 )

          For myself, I escaped because I turned to religion.

          I expected you to get flamed a lot harder for that. Glad you found a solution to your trials.

    • I think that throughout history, life were always mostly shitty for people, as most of them were used as slaves of some powerful man. Note how most societies try to prevent suicide no matter what, even in so called capitalism where a man owns his property, destroying your body is still outlawed. I suspect that this is because life inherently sucks. In the past, people who felt like that thought they were the exception and not the rule. Nowadays, with social media we finally understand that life are actually

    • by Falos ( 2905315 )

      I don't like to indulge insoluble problems. If you're playing in a sport, and half your team becomes injured or leaves or whatever, do you even bother going on the field? Same for video games. Same for those 1v1 monster card games. Or maybe those movie lines where I hear "mate in four moves".

      If a friend invites you to play a video game but stipulates that you can only play as the useless joke character, it might be funny and silly. Because it's absurd. Ridiculous. A stranger's invitation will seem a waste o

  • And one known to have depression, too. You monsters.

  • Wrong Conculstions (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 08, 2018 @08:00AM (#56088487)

    I've attempted suicide and failed at it. The more coverage suicide gets, the more people come out saying it's only for cowards. Only lazy people do it. The people are selfish. Etc... The perceived attacks against oneself are enough to drive you to suicide. Not only do you already have the poorest self image, everyone else is saying you're even worse. There's nothing lazy about being suicidal depressed. Sometimes you literal have no energy to do anything, Just tossing a meal in the microwave can feels like trying to walk to the moon. You just can't do it.

    Being selfish? FUCK YOU. The person is currently living in hell and those around him/her can't even bother to notice. Why should I live in unending torment just so you don't have the inconvenience of maybe attending a funeral? You're the selfish brat. Plus some of us feel the world would be a better place without us so we're actually making your life better by dying. That's not selfish either. You go kill yourself to reduce your carbon footprint.

    Me a coward? I bet you can't even fake trying to killing yourself. Hold some scissors and hang yourself for one minute or just slash a light cut all the way down your arm. Go head, do it. You won't die doing those things but you won't be able to bring yourself to do them. If a lazy coward can do that and more, what kind of low life scum are you? Your suicidal coward has more bravery than you.

    Of course the suicidal person is dead so everyone blames the victim so they can feel better. I understand that. But doing so causes more suicides and makes us depressed people hide due to social fear. Anyone who successfully commits suicide on purpose deserves your respect. It's a hard thing to do, especially considering doing anything while depressed is already difficult. People 'suddenly' kill themselves because bringing the topic up means everyone around you attacks you whether they realize it or not. Best to stay silent and hidden. Then you may have a chance without everyone you know being directly against you. How many times have you blamed someone who committed suicide? If anyone around you is depressed they know to hide it from you and anyone who talks with you. We've got enough grief to deal with already.

  • "In the case of celebrities, the potential for someone at risk to make an emotional connection and over-identify with them is greater, in some cases even to interpret their death as affirmation that they could take their own life."

    As children, we are taught to value certain "famous" people, such as athletes, actors, musicians, politicians, etc. As adults, many continue a fixation with "famous" people. At some point I decided none of these "famous" people had much of worth to add to society and many se
  • I don't see the summary or the article indicating that the increased suicides were all done using the same method as Robin Williams. If they were, that would support the implication that the reporting should be less detailed about the method. If it was just a general uptick in suicide across all methods, though, then it seems like wishful thinking to claim that it would have been averted if only outlets had been more responsible. If the increase was due more to thinking along the lines of "If Robin Willi

  • Most taboos about suicide are religion-centric, but it's actually illegal to attempt and succeed. Why can't we just acknowledge that some people don't want to live anymore and actually help them out? Some obvious examples:
    - Someone dealing with a terminal illness that will destroy them slowly over many painful years, or destroy their minds like dementia or Alzheimer's disease
    - Someone facing a lifetime prison sentence
    - Someone who's so badly depressed, unable to affect it via medication or other means, and

  • by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Thursday February 08, 2018 @03:04PM (#56090727)
    The Suicide rate in an average American High School is worse than a Chinese Foxconn factory, yet Americans complain about the Chinese and never look to their own house.
  • I had a close friend who announced that he would hang himself in one year if his music didn't sell. In fact he did it. He refused to get help and did not believe that any real help was available. Laws regarding mental health make it next to impossible to put people in a controlled environment until real therapy is applied. The right to not be in a mental hospital has now trumped the right to life. There really are people who have a real need to kill themselves but most suicides are not such cases.
    • The right to not be in a mental hospital has now trumped the right to life.

      You're not talking about the right to life; you're talking about mandated continued living. Moreover, there are very good reasons to make it difficult to send someone to a mental hospital involuntarily, getting them out of the way for whatever purpose.

      It's usually possible to do an involuntary commitment if a person is a severe imminent threat to themselves or others, but the warning signs are often missed. (If someone turns un

  • ...and yet not one of them moderated as "Funny". Is that weird, or what?
  • The potential risk of copycat incidents after celebrity cases is known to public health bodies.

    I got a boobjob after Lindsay Lohan [sofeminine.co.uk] got one. Then I became a drug addict and alcoholic so I could go through treatment like .... well, like everyone [gawker.com]. Then I caught cancer so I could be like Larry King, and others. Then I died so I could be like Prince. Then I resurrected so I could be like Elvis. Let me tell you, the copycat lifestyle takes a lot of commitment.

  • Correlation is not causation.

    Unless people were leaving suicide notes citing Williams’ suicide as a reason for theirs or happened to be doing it in the exact same way, including minor details INDICATING a relashionship, I doubt there is anything to this. Their there lacks a certain... je ne sais quoi... là?

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