RE: Is Suicide Contagious? A Case Study in Applied Memetics

From: Paul Marsden (
Date: Tue Apr 17 2001 - 16:31:45 BST

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    Subject: RE: Is Suicide Contagious? A Case Study in Applied Memetics
    Date: Tue, 17 Apr 2001 16:31:45 +0100
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    >In order for suicides to be truly contagious...

    >The psychological state of suicide (or other states that relate to extreme behaviours) is (are) not contagious, IMHO.

    Well, the US CDC, the Samaritans, contagion psychologists (including myself) and the vast majority of suicidologists disagree with you. OR COURSE, nobody (I hope) believes that suicide is transmitted as a biological pathogen - rather contagion in the social sciences is defined - as you suggest - in terms of social legitimation - we use social proof (what other people are doing) to interpret situations (social cognition) and to resolve approach-avoidance conflicts. The evidence (suicide levels regularly jump significantly following media representations of suicide - like a 1000% increase in paracetamol overdoses following TV hospital soap portraying such a suicide )suggests that suicide contagion does occur, but this is very weak evidence because the correlation is made between unrelated group-level archival stats.

    The problem is therefore demonstrating the plausibility of the suicide contagion hypothesis ETHICALLY. All I have done here is increase the plausibility of the suicide contagion hypothesis by showing that our interpretation of situations as suicidal can be influenced by the presence of suicide around us.

    To many, this may seem either obvious or trivial - but it has significant implications for health policy, and for the understanding of suicide itself.

    Dr Paul Marsden
    tel: +44 (0) 777 95 77 248

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