In light of this, we want to share a few thoughts with you:
The suicide of a celebrity and the associated media coverage can actually increase the risk of suicide in others who may be at risk. This is called “suicide contagion”. While this risk is small for each individual, since so many people consume the related media, it can still have an impact for those at risk and potentially lead some people to self-harm. Further, while the media can lower risk by following safe reporting guidelines there is still some risk associated with the quantity of exposure to stories about suicide. Further, when there are several suicides that receive intense media coverage and that occur in a short time, it can create the mistaken impression that suicide is more common than it actually is-and this misperception can itself be harmful. Even with safe reporting, reading a lot about suicide for those who are vulnerable can be harmful. If you or people around you struggle with depression or suicidal thoughts or impulses it is prudent to limit exposure to coverage of these tragic deaths.
The news from the CDC is grim. Suicide rates have increased in almost every state in the U.S. over the past ten years. Rates have increased among young people, but the highest rates of suicide occur among middle-aged white men. It is particularly disturbing that rates of suicide vary significantly across the U.S. with the highest rates in rural areas that are also experiencing high rates of opioid misuse and overdose, isolation, economic challenge, and firearm ownership. These areas also generally have more limited access to mental health care. As a nation we have witnessed the general deterioration of our mental health system and services and our social safety net; along with our inability to establish sensible firearm safety laws in much of the country. There are currently twice as many firearm suicides as firearm homicides in the U.S., and guns are the method most commonly used in the U.S. for suicide.
While we may not be able to prevent every suicide, there is a lot we can do to lower the risk for suicide in our communities and schools. The positive news from the CDC reportis that it affirms the approach we at JED have been taking and teaching to others for more than 15 years. The CDC is now advocating a broad based public health/community oriented focus to suicide prevention similar to JED’s Comprehensive Approach. This Approach involves upstream prevention activities such as teaching life skills and promoting positive social connections; increasing mental health literacy so people know how to recognize and act when they or someone in their world is in distress; reducing barriers to care such as shame and prejudice, making sure people have access to mental health care and crisis services; and restricting access to means for self-harm.
We at JED are doing all we can to support the health and safety of teens and young adults at schools and in their communities. We can all work together to spread awareness about these critical issues and helpful resources, and advocate for sensible mental health policies and expansion of services. Most importantly, we can all do our best to take care of ourselves and each other and to seek help and support when it is needed.
Victor Schwartz, M.D.
Victor has over 25 years of experience as a psychiatrist working in college mental health. He is a Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at NYU School of Medicine. Victor was medical director of NYU’s Counseling Service, established a counseling center at Yeshiva University where he subsequently served as the University Dean of Students. He was an original member of the American Psychiatric Association’s Presidential Task Force on College Mental Health, co-chair of the APA working group on legal issues in college mental health and is an APA Distinguished Life Fellow. Victor served as a co-chair of the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry Committee on the College Student and has served as an advisor to HBO, Dear Evan Hansen, NCAA, NFL and NBA. He is co-editor with Dr. Jerald Kay, of Mental Health Care in the College Community (Wiley, 2010). Victor received a B.A. from Yeshiva College, earned his M.D. from SUNY Downstate Medical College and completed his Residency in Psychiatry at NYU Medical Center-Bellevue Hospital.