A celebrity who commits suicide is 14 times more likely to inspire a copycat death than an ordinary person who takes his or her life, researchers have found.
One reason may be that when people see a life of glamour and riches is not enough to sustain happiness, they give up hope for their own humdrum existence.
American researchers who reviewed 42 studies of the impact of media reporting of suicides found a celebrity suicide was likely to result in a much greater degree of identification than stories of ordinary people. Those in the entertainment world had the greatest effect.
The authors cite the death in 1962 of Marilyn Monroe after she took an overdose of sleeping pills. There was a 12 per cent increase in suicides in the same month. "If a Marilyn Monroe with all her fame and fortune cannot endure life, the suicidal person may say 'Why should I?'," they write in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
The study revealed that the greater the media coverage of a suicide the greater the likelihood of a copycat effect. But television reports appeared to be less influential than newspaper reports, maybe because newspaper reports can be kept and referred to. Copies of suicide news stories have been found near the bodies of victims.
The authors say limiting news reporting of suicide might be the best way of preventing it, and praise Switzerland and Austria, where agreements have been reached to do so.