In honor of International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, we are addressing the question “Is suicide contagious?” The most recent year that state-specific figures for suicide are known is 2011 and this reveals that the age-adjusted suicide rate in Tennessee was 14.6 suicides per 100,000 residents. This comes to 938 reported suicides in the state. This is lower than in previous years, but still more than the national average, which is 12.4 suicides per 100,000, the number reported by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) for 2010. The rates of suicides among adolescents and older adults remained stable. Caucasian males from 35 to 64 years old accounted for the most suicide deaths, and it was shown that the rate of suicide for Caucasian males is higher across the lifespan.
An interesting study was done to determine what happens to teens with no known suicidal history, but who have recently had a family member or suicide attempt suicide. Data was culled from the ADD Health archive, a representing a large national population, to determine the answer to this: is suicide contagious?
Is Suicide Contagious? What Differences are there Between Females and Males?
The study showed that teenage girls and boys are more apt to develop for the first time suicidal thoughts if a family member or friend has recently attempted suicide. Girls were shown to be more sensitive than boys, being more affected by these behaviors of both friends and family members. Boys were not as vulnerable as girls to suicide attempts on the part of family members. Although both girls and boys are detrimentally affected by suicide, for girls the impact is longer lasting and has a wider influence on them. For example, girls are more apt to develop not just suicidal thoughts but to attempt suicide. The answer seems to be “yes” when it comes to asking: is suicide contagious?
The study also discovered that the period of vulnerability following an attempted suicide of a friend or relative can last up to a year or longer. For the most part, the results imply that when one is exposed to suicide attempts it does influence the development of suicidal thoughts for the first time, and in certain cases, suicide attempts.
People need to know this information because prior to this sociology has long maintained that intimate social relationships and the support and love they provide, form a shield of protection from suicide. But, this study showed that the answer to the question of, “Is suicide contagious?” is that people with a family member or friend who has attempted suicide are more prone to have suicidal thoughts.
The rate of suicide among adolescents has tripled since the 1950s. It seems to have stabilized today, however it remains the second highest cause of death among 15 to 24 year olds.
Is suicide contagious? The Role Model Effect
This study found that when a role model attempts suicide it does trigger suicidal thoughts for the first time, and sometimes even suicide attempts, even when major controls are in place. Furthermore, it was found that although the effects diminish over time, girls seem to be more vulnerable than boys, and how strong the relationship was to the role model matters, at least for teenagers. Friends seem to be more pronounced role models for both girls and boys.
While there are a host of risk factors for suicide, these findings imply that when one is exposed to suicidal behaviors in others who play a significant role in an individual’s life this somehow teaches them about a new way of dealing with emotional stress, and that is by becoming suicidal. Social influences and ties can be sources of support, but also of can increase awareness of negative behaviors, such as suicidal thoughts.