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Media coverage of how people overcome crises can reduce suicide rates

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(Vienna, 14 December 2021) The fact that media portrayals of suicides lead to copy-cat behaviour is known in research as the "Werther effect". A study by Thomas Niederkrotenthaler at MedUni Vienna's Center for Public Health has now shown that it also works the other way round (Papageno effect). The analysis, now published in the prestigious British Medical Journal, demonstrates the link between the hip-hop hit "1-800-273-8255" by US rapper Logic and a 5.5% drop in suicides in the USA over the observation period.

The 2017 hit focuses on the profound crisis of a young, black, homosexual man who wants to end his life due to discrimination and rejection but then picks up the phone and calls 1-800-273-8255, the US suicide prevention hotline National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for help.

The hip-hop song was in the top 3 of the US charts for many weeks and was also performed at the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards and the 2018 Grammy Awards. Its enormous success was reflected in a significant increase in the number of calls from people with suicidal ideation to the US suicide prevention hotline, which became widely known through the song title.

Measurability due to wide dissemination
Suicide researcher Thomas Niederkrotenthaler at MedUni Vienna's Center for Public Health has long been searching for such measurable effects of media portrayals of overcoming crises on suicide rates: "Experimental studies, including in particular those by our research group, indicate that narratives from people who have overcome suicidal crises can reduce suicidality among the population. Until now, however, there have not really been any appropriate media portrayals with a sufficiently large circulation to be able to make this connection visible in figures among the population. Logic's hip-hop song is a notable exception."

More contacts, fewer suicides
During the period when the song was at its peak popularity, Thomas Niederkrotenthaler and researchers from Vienna, New York, Toronto, Atlanta and Melbourne analysed social media posts related to the hit song and the number of calls to the US suicide prevention hotline. The results in numbers: over a 34-day period, 9,915 (6.9%) extra requests for help were recorded by the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the number of suicides in the US fell by 245 (5.5%).

"Our analysis enabled us to show for the first time that creative collaboration between the entertainment industry and suicide prevention services can be effective in encouraging vulnerable people in a suicidal crisis to seek help, thereby preventing suicides," says Thomas Niederkrotenthaler and he appeals to the media to use their positive potential for suicide prevention by portraying how people have successfully overcome suicidal crises.

Service: British Medical Journal (BMJ)
Association of Logic's Hip Hop Song 1-800-273-8255 with Lifeline Calls and Suicides in the United States: Interrupted Time-Series Analysis
Thomas Niederkrotenthaler, Ulrich S. Tran, Madelyn Gould, Mark Sinyor, Steven Sumner, Markus J. Strauss, Martin Voracek, Benedikt Till, Sean Murphy, Frances Gonzalez, Matthew J. Spittal, John Draper
BMJ 2021;375:e067726

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