The Link Between Fictional Suicides and Suicide Contagion: Fact or Myth?

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Bains, Aneesha
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This paper is an examination of fictional media depictions of suicide and their potential relationship to suicide contagion. By surveying and exploring the literature, the aim is to present both proponents and opponents of the suggested link. Inclusion criteria for the studies consist of an adolescent population: 10- to 19-years of age, studies that discuss the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, and studies that discuss the underlying theories (differential identification, symbolic interactionist, social learning, and priming) and mechanisms (transmission, contextual influence, affiliation, imitation; categories of identification; and empathy and perspective-taking) that contribute to suicide contagion. The main conclusion drawn from the literature suggests that further research needs to be done to arrive at more conclusive answers. The studies highlight the participants' ability to identify strongly with an on-screen character and identify that as a factor that increased their risk of suicide. Additionally, the studies emphasize the significant role of emotional contagion in this identification process and suggest it to be a possible precursor to behavioural contagion. Other studies discuss the benefits of suicidal depictions as increasing help-seeking behaviours and knowledge of risk and protective factors and decreasing stigma. The studies' implications reveal a gap between research and dissemination of it, a need for further education of clinicians around suicide contagion regarding fictional media, and the importance of teaching clients about the risks and benefits of fictional portrayals.
suicide , contagion , adolescents , identification , fictional , risk , protective
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