There was a 10-percent rise in the number of suicide cases in the months that followed Hollywood actor Robin William’s suicide in 2014 - or what is known as the ‘celebrity-suicide effect.’
Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health researchers recorded 2,000 more suicide deaths in the United States following the actor’s suicide, found to be asphyxiation due to hanging, in August 11, 2014.
“Research has shown that the number of suicides increases following a high profile celebrity suicide, but this is the first study, to our knowledge, that has examined the effect of a high-profile suicide on the general population within the modern era of the 24-hours news cycle,” said David Fink, MPH, MPhil of the Department of Epidemiology.
In the study, the researchers used monthly suicide data dating from January 1999 to December 2015 from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The researchers analyzed their age, sex and method of death.
Likewise, the English-media news cycle following the suicide was also analyzed.
Researchers noted that they expected 16,849 suicides August to December 2014, but recorded 18,690 suicides after the death. The increases remained consistent.
Suicides conducted through hanging also rose by 32 percent in the same period.
Though the observation was seen among all gender and age-groups, men aged between 30 and 44 were singled out as particularly affected, the researchers added.
Terms such as ‘suicide’, ‘dead’ and ‘Robin Williams’ proliferated in the media following the event. Williams said to have suffered from a form of dementia but early news reports did not contain this information.
The researchers made clear, however, that they cannot state for sure if the higher rates of suicide deaths were due to Williams’ death.
“Williams’ death may have provided the necessary stimulus for high-risk segments of the U.S. population, especially middle aged men in despair, to move from suicidal ideation to attempt,” said researcher Fink. MIMS