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High-profile suicides can lead to copycats, doc warns

by Mike Lloyd/Dean Recksiedler, News 1130


Can we stop the copycats?


Highly-publicized teen suicides, like the case of Amanda Todd, can increase the risk of others trying to do the same, but a clinical psychologist tells News1130 there are ways to prevent that from happening.


“We know suicide is a very complex phenomenon that, very candidly, we don’t understand that well and aren’t that good at predicting,” says Dr. Joti Samra.


“That being said, there are certainly a number of reliable and predictable factors that come out again and again when we’re looking at individuals that are at risk to commit suicide. There is evidence of copycat suicides and we see that in two situations: following a teen suicide, as we’ve seen in the situation with Amanda Todd, and following celebrity suicides. Where we see a high-profile media figure commit suicide, we see an increase in the rate of suicides afterward,” she explains.


Samra says there are some important factors to consider in the copycat phenomenon.


“One is that the rate of suicide attempts go up among individuals who see themselves as having some kind of commonality with the individual who has committed suicide in terms of age, race, or ethnicity. We know that the peaks are not short-lived; some research suggests it goes up when something is heavily covered by the media and it stays elevated for some time afterward,” she adds.


“We need to be mindful of the kind of messaging that’s coming out. There is that risk that when you see a young, very attractive woman in the media who is almost seen as a hero that for someone who is vulnerable and entertaining the idea of suicide, they may somehow glamorize the outcome.”


“We need to be careful as educators, media professionals, [and as] parents to make sure we are feeding the right messages when we are talking about this terrible tragedy with Amanda Todd.”


Samra adds suicide is a phenomenon that affects many people, and we can’t lose sight of that. “It’s these stories that are not making it into the media and I think we need to really be aware this is something that affects many people for so many different reasons. We can’t just limit it to talking about one person.”
Samra suggests it is easy to “fall into the trap” of focusing on one individual who took her life when there are millions who are thinking of suicide. She wants suicide and bullying talked about broadly, in a more open and honest way.


Helpful Links
The Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre
Stop A Bully (a national anti-bullying reporting system)
Kids Help Phone is available anytime for youth of all ages.  Call toll-free 1.800.668.6868.


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