Suicides Spiked After Robin Williams' Death, Study Says

From TIME - February 7, 2018

Widespread media coverage may have contributed to a 10% increase in suicides following Robin Williams highly publicized death, according to a new study.

In the four months after Williams death by suicide in August 2014, CDC data revealed that there were 18,690 deaths by suicide in the U.S.significantly more than the 16,849 suicides that past data and trends would have predicted for that time period, according to an analysis published Wednesday in PLOS ONE.

When you looked at the data, you didnt need statistics to see that something happened, says study author David Fink, a doctoral candidate in epidemiology at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. You see this very large spike in August that you can just tell is off.

The study is among the first to examine the impact of celebrity suicide in the U.S. (One paper in 1996 paper focused on Nirvana singer Kurt Cobains death two years earlier.) While the research doesnt prove that Williams death, and the resulting news coverage and social media response, caused the observed spike in suicides, a number of parallels suggest that it at least played a part, Fink says.

For one thing, the jump was particularly significant among men ages 30 to 44, a demographic similar to the actors. A disproportionate number of the victims also died by strangulation, as many news outlets reported that Williams did, according to the paper.

That overlap isnt very surprising, Fink says. While the factors that contribute to every suicide are different, Fink says a common theory is that many cases share three precursors: a breakdown in the persons social structure, access to a means of suicide and an ability to overcome a natural fear of death. A high-profile celebrity suicide may partially fulfill the third element, Fink says.


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