Re: Fwd: Werther Effect

Date: Fri 17 Jan 2003 - 06:49:49 GMT

  • Next message: Olivier Driessens: "Re: Fwd: Werther Effect"

    > Subject: FWD [fort] Werther Effect
    > The Werther Effect
    > by Loren Coleman
    > Copyright 2002
    > The media calls it the "copycat" phenomenon, and suicidologists term
    > it the "Werther Effect." In the 1980s, one outcome was "suicide
    > clusters." Talking about suicide saves lives, and this is an entirely
    > different matter. Prevention work has shown that discussing suicide in
    > a framework of alternative modeling and protective factors does not
    > "cause" suicides but prevents them. The Werther Effect, however, is
    > another matter, and has much to do with the modeling of the methods,
    > plus the isolation, impulsiveness, and hopelessness of the suicidal
    > individual.
    > The Werther Effect was originally coined by Dr. David P Phillips, from
    > a 1774 novel written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (the author of
    > Faust) entitled The Sorrows of Young Werther. In this story, the
    > youthful character Werther falls in love with a women who is promised
    > to another. Always melodramatic, Werther decides that life cannot go
    > on, that his love is lost. He then dresses in boots, a blue coat, and
    > a yellow vest, sits at his desk with an open book, and shoots himself.
    > In the following years, throughout Europe, so many young men dressed
    > themselves as Werther and sat at a desk with an open book to shoot
    > themselves that the book, The Sorrows of Young Werther, was banned in
    > Italy, Germany, and Denmark.
    > In the 1970s, Dr. Phillips conducted formal studies suggesting that
    > the Werther Effect was, indeed, a reality, that massive media
    > attention and retelling of the specific details of a suicide (or, in
    > some cases, untimely deaths) could increase the number of suicides.
    > The 1962 suicide of Marilyn Monroe is a classic case. One hundred,
    > ninety-seven individual suicides in the following month may have used
    > the Hollywood star's suicide as a model for theirs. The suicide rate
    > in the US increased by 12% for the month after the Monroe suicide
    > publicity.
    > Suicides of celebrities are the most apparent illustrations. But
    > historically, certain other celebrity examples of "hidden suicides"
    > also come to mind, including that of James Dean's death, originally
    > reported by the media as a car crash, but whispered about as a
    > suicide.
    > The Werther Effect from such well-publicized deaths does appear to
    > have some impact.
    > Before internet and cable news, the significance of stories in
    > newspapers, on the radio, and via broadcast television news could be
    > tracked rather well. In Dr. David Phillips' study on imitation and
    > suggestion, immediately after publicized suicides, the rate of
    > automobile fatalities also was found to have increased (Phillips,
    > 1979). His study showed a strong correlation between the reporting of
    > suicide and motor vehicle accidents. The more publicity the story
    > received, the higher the automobile fatality rate. Interestingly
    > enough, reports of younger suicide victims were followed by younger
    > people dying by vehicle crashes and reports of older suicide victims
    > were followed by older people dying by vehicle crashes. The direct
    > "imitation," down to the actual age of the "imitators" of the
    > publicized suicides was there in the data.
    > Phillips found the correlation between the reporting of the stories
    > and the increase in suicide rates at that time might be a result of
    > imitating, modeling and suggestion by the drivers. Phillips examined a
    > two week period beginning two days prior to the publicized suicide and
    > ending 11 days later. The researcher found that automobile fatalities
    > increased by 31% three days after a suicide was reported in the media.
    > The increase appeared to also have a lesser seven day mirror peak, as
    > well.
    > Phillips (1979) maintains that there are no other variables involved
    > in the increase in suicides. He reported: "The increase in the
    > suicide rate was not due to the effect of weekday or monthly
    > fluctuations in motor vehicle fatalities, to holiday weekends, or to
    > yearly linear trends, because the effects were corrected for in the
    > selection and treatment of the control periods, with which the
    > experimental periods are compared" (p. 1159). It is also interesting
    > to comment that the motor vehicle fatalities are most frequent in the
    > region where the suicide story is publicized.
    > The first book dealing with the copycat phenomena, Suicide Clusters
    > (1987) notes the Werther Effect in other events besides suicides. The
    > book is dedicated to David Phillips for his groundbreaking work that
    > has gone largely ignored by most scholars.
    > During the 1990s, however, Professor Riaz Hassan, a professor of
    > Sociology at Flinders University, Australia, confirmed the links
    > between reporting of suicides and further suicides. Hassan replicated
    > Phillips' studies in Australia. He took his data from two major
    > metropolitan newspapers with a national impact, between 1981 and 1990,
    > and identified the stories that reported suicides. He then took the
    > daily suicide rates between 1981 and 1990, and analyzed whether or not
    > the newspaper stories had an effect on the number of suicides in the
    > days following.
    > Hassan defined his study by the "impact" and that "was measured by the
    > location of the newspaper story, by the size of the newspaper story
    > and headline and by a presence or absence of photographs."
    > Summarizing Hassan's findings, according to Paul Herman (1996), they
    > "show that the male suicide rates increased significantly in a three
    > day period which included the day of publication of high impact
    > reports and the two subsequent days. The female rate did not increase
    > but the ratio between male and female suicide showed a significant
    > skewing in high impact periods. The findings clearly suggest some
    > association as far as males are concerned between the publication of
    > the suicide stories in the two metropolitan papers and the suicide
    > rate."
    > As anyone watching the media and the societal reaction understands,
    > the suicide clusters of the 1980s were replaced by the school
    > shootings of the 1990s, almost all conducted by suicidal male youth.
    > The Werther Effect has merely shifted its impact as the media has
    > shifted its focus.
    > In unpublished studies and surveys I have conducted, research
    > indicates the Werther Effect's impact and involvement may be evidenced
    > in other media-discussed violence. For example, some school shootings
    > situations have been followed by workplace violence, mass killings,
    > and other dramatic suicides or accidents. Popular media writers
    > tracking the school shootings have often missed the groupings of
    > workplace violence or other incidents that take place three days, and
    > in the week after the initial incident.
    > Patterns still are very apparent in suicide clusters, and much can be
    > discovered from looking at local clusters, as well as nationally
    > publicized suicides and related events.
    > As 2002 began, a dramatic event was noted by the media which serves as
    > a vivid example. The well-publicized suicide of the 15 year old male
    > youth (Charles J. Bishop, family name formerly Bishara) who crashed
    > the stolen Cessna plane crash into the Bank of America building on
    > January 6, 2002, was clearly modeled on the September 11th terrorists'
    > suicide plane crashes. Furthermore, this Tampa plane suicide happened
    > on a weekend in which several (17) plane crashes (with seven being
    > Cessnas) occurred, with seven of them being fatalities. This is an
    > unusually high number of small plane crashes. Some of these included
    > apparent and overt suicides. Hidden suicides may have also taken
    > place, but the data is unclear on this point.
    > This Tampa incident was followed by events which appear to further
    > illustrate the Werther Effect. Certainly, the dramatic suicide of
    > another "CB", another Charles, a former British special forces veteran
    > Charles Bruce, author of Freefall, when he jumped (without a
    > parachute) to his death from another Cessna over the English
    > countryside on January 8th, must be considered. Also, drummer Jon Lee
    > from the Welsh rock band Feeder who completed his suicide in his
    > Florida home, on January 7th, is worthy of noting, due to the
    > location.
    > More rigorous studies, in the future, should assist in unlocking many
    > questions raised by the Werther Effect's relationship to suicide and
    > related phenomena.
    > Surveys and studies by Phillips, the CDC, and others, however, now
    > calls forth that the addition of "protective factors" (hotline
    > numbers, for example) to a news story, and the subtraction of graphic
    > details of the methods used may actually decrease the effect of the
    > media's impact on future suicides.
    > -----
    > Various citations for the Werther Effect include:
    > Bollen, KA. and Phillips, DP. "Suicidal Motor Vehicle Fatalities in
    > Detroit: A Replication," American Journal of Sociology: 1981: 87.
    > Brent DA, Kerr MM, Goldstein C, Bozigar J, Wartella M, Allan MJ. An
    > outbreak of suicide and suicidal behavior in a high school. American
    > academy of child and adolescent psychiatry 1989; 918-924.
    > Coleman L. Suicide Clusters. Boston, MA: Faber & Faber, 1987.
    > Etzersdorfer E, Sonneck G, Nagel-Kuess S. Newspaper reports and
    > suicide. New
    > England journal of medicine 1992; 327: 502 - 503.
    > Gould MS, Wallenstein S, Kleinman M. Time-space clustering of teenage
    > suicide. American journal of epidemiology 1990; 131: 71-78.
    > Gould MS, Petrie K, Kleinman MH, Wallenstein S. Clustering of
    > attempted suicide: New Zealand national data. International journal
    > of epidemiology. 1994; 23: 1185- 1189.
    > Herman, P. Reporting of Suicide. Australian Press Council News. May
    > 1996; 8, 2: 1.
    > Jobes DA, Berman AL, O¹Carroll PW, Eastgard S, Knickmeyer S. The Kurt
    > Cobain suicide crisis: perspectives from research, public health and
    > news media. Suicide and life-threatening behavior 1996; 26: 260-272.
    > Phillips DP. The influence of suggestion on suicide: substantive and
    > theoretical implication of the Werther effect. American Sociological
    > Review 1974; 39: 240 - 254.
    > Phillips, DP. Motor Vehicle Fatalities Increase Just After Publicized
    > Suicide Stories. Science 24 June 1977: 196.
    > Phillips, DP. Suicide, Motor Vehicle Fatalities, and the Mass Media:
    > Evidence Toward a Theory of Suggestion. American Journal of
    > Sociology 1979: 84: 5.
    > Phillips DP, Carstensen LL. Clustering of teenage suicide after
    > television
    > news stories about suicide. New England journal of medicine 1986;
    > 685-689.
    > Riaunet Å, Stiles TC, Rygnestad T, Bjerke T. Mass-media reports of
    > suicide and suicide attempts, and the rate of parasuicide. I Bjerke T
    > og Stiles TC. Suicide attempts in the Nordic countries. Trondheim:
    > Tapir, 1991.
    > Schmidtke A, Häfner H. Public attitudes towards an effect and mass
    > media on suicide and deliberate selfharm. I RFW Diekstra. Suicide and
    > its prevention: the role of attitude and imitation. Leiden: Brill,
    > 1989: 311-330.
    > Velting DM, Gould MS. Suicide contagion. I RW Maris, MM Silverman, SS
    > Canetto (eds). Review of suicidology. New York: Guilford, 1997: 96-137
    > ---------------------------- Loren Coleman Copyright 2002
    > ===============================================================
    > This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    > Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
    > For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)
    > see:

    =============================================================== This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing) see:

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Fri 17 Jan 2003 - 06:49:09 GMT