Suicide contagion refers to the idea that if an individual is exposed to suicide, he or she may be influenced to think about, attempt or even commit suicide. This is thought to be especially true of young adolescents. A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal supports this idea, finding that students ages 12 and 13 years old who had a schoolmate commit suicide were five times more likely to have suicidal thoughts compared to those students who were not exposed to suicide. And this effect had an impact for two years following the suicide.
Researchers used survey data from 22,000 students ages 12 to 17 in Canada. Survey respondents were asked whether anyone in their school had committed suicide, whether they knew anyone personally who had committed suicide and whether they themselves had ever seriously thought about committing suicide. Although the contagion effect was stronger in the younger children, researchers found that, overall, having a schoolmate who committed suicide was more likely to result in suicidal thoughts as compared to knowing someone outside of school who had committed suicide.
India Bohanna of the School of Public Health at James Cook University in Cairns, Australia says, Most school strategies following a suicide typically last for months, which may not be long enough to truly reduce the risk of contagion. We need to know what works in mitigating the risk of contagion and why.
ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross adds, Given this information, it is important for schools to work to get rid of the stigma associated with therapy and talking to school administrators, such as guidance counselors, if a student feels he or she needs help. Students should be encouraged to seek out help if they need it, and schools should make it known to the students that the resources are there should they need them.