Does extensive coverage of a suicide influence teens to commit suicide?

I was recently interviewed for an MSNBC segment to discuss teen suicides and the impact highly publicized suicides (especially in the context of bullying) have on young people. There has recently been some concern that the publicity given to these cases may be glamorizing suicide for vulnerable teens while at the same time giving the bullies more ammunition. In this segment, I discuss with anchor Chris Jansing and Dr. Paula Clayton of the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention this question: Does extensive coverage of a suicide influence teens to commit suicide? The answer: Studies show that highly publicized coverage can indeed glamorize suicide and influence vulnerable teens, especially with our accessibility to media information in this era.

My question then is: Do copycat suicides imply that we should not raise awareness of this issue?

This reminds me of a frequent misconception that many people, including some doctors, have with respect to asking depressed patients about suicide. Does asking a patient about suicidal thoughts, intent or plan increase the likelihood of someone killing themselves? The answer is: No. Discussing suicide with a depressed person will not “give them any ideas”. Contrary to what some may think, it does not plant a seed in someone’s mind. It can however, lead to suicide prevention. Asking about suicide can actually save a person’s life.

Given that suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death in young people ages 15 to 24 (the first two being accidents and homicide), parents, educators, and mental health professionals can not afford to avoid these crucial conversations. And with respect to bullying, we’re seeing that more and more schools are taking it very seriously, many with little or zero tolerance policies, particularly in light of the recent events with a Rutgers student committing suicide in context of a webcast of his sexual activity.

We must not be afraid to discuss and raise awareness of the issues while being aware of the warning signs of suicide. Teens can also play a very important role in helping each other out by knowing the warning signs and when needed offering their support to their peers. The key is to raise awareness and open the dialogue about depression and teen suicide without romanticizing or glamorizing it as a coping mechanism. By teaching the teenager about other coping mechanisms, offering screening for depression, preventing bullying and offering support or counseling for suffering teens, we can avoid further suicides- copycat or not.