Williams’ Suicide Inspired 1,800 Copycats: Study

(ED CARA, GIZMODO) Robin Williams’ suicide in August 2014 broke hearts worldwide.

But a new study suggests that the salacious media coverage may have inspired even more tragedy—and deaths— in its wake.

Researchers at Columbia University looked at suicide data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, using it to create a predictive model of how many suicides should have occurred in the US in 2014.

They also looked at the mentions of “suicide” and “Robin Williams” in news reports starting from June 2013 to December 2014.

For the months prior to Williams’ suicide, the model held up. But from August to December 2014, the number of actual suicides was considerably higher, with the largest spikes seen soon after his death.

The researchers found that around 1,800 more people died by suicide in the first four months following William’s death than they forecasted, an overall 10 percent increase.

Grimmer still, there was an over 30 percent increase from expected suicides caused by strangulation—the method that Williams died by— compared to a three percent increase of suicides by other methods.  

All of which suggests that Williams’ death, and the outsized media attention it got, sparked a copycat effect.

“Although we cannot determine with certainty that the excess suicides were attributable to news media reports on Williams’ death, Williams’ death might have provided the necessary stimulus for high-risk segments of the population to move from suicidal [thoughts] to attempt,” the researchers wrote.

The Washington Post, for instance, ran headlines that tied Williams’ death to depression; The New York Times laid out Williams’ method of death; and a news conference held by officers investigating his death went even further, providing details on what he used to strangle himself and how his body was positioned. Read the full story at Gizmodo. Featured image: Jacobo Hoyos Zea, CC BY 2.0



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