The CDC reports more than 45,000 people die each year by suicide. For every one successful suicide, 25 people make unsuccessful attempts. While the highest suicide rates are among the middle-aged and elderly, clusters of suicides sometimes occur in teens and young adults. Some research suggests that under the right conditions, suicidal ideation can actually become “contagious.” Many studies have looked at factors surrounding a number of suicide clusters, finding some commonalities.
The Role of Media
Several influences can drive a susceptible person to suicide, but when it comes to clusters, the media may hold some responsibility. One study indicated the amount of media coverage on a suicide can affect the suicide rates that follow. The most profound changes are likely to occur where media coverage reaches the most viewers. Interestingly, broader news coverage specific to the Internet appears to affect males more than females.
Another common element in suicide clusters appears to be learned behavior. Human beings learn by watching and imitating other people, and people tend to imitate those they feel they most identify with. Especially in teens and young adults, observation and imitation can play into peer pressure, creating a unique dynamic when it comes to decision making. Teens are subject to changing hormones and still-developing brains, which means they are more likely to be impulsive. This also leaves them open to imitating unhealthy behaviors and more vulnerable to suicidal ideations.
Certain social groups can be more likely to share suicidal ideations due to personal commonalities. For example, members within a certain peer group may all be dealing with a shared stressor, or they may share certain predispositions, such as substance abuse problems. When combined with other factors, such as peer pressure, and other vulnerabilities, such as age, one suicide in a peer group can feasibly lead to a cluster.
Regardless of the factors involved, suicide is preventable. If someone you know has feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, a desire to die or escape, or is withdrawing, urge them to seek help. The suicide prevention line, 1-800-273-TALK (8255), always has people available who can help, no matter the time or day.