Could teen suicide be “contagious?” Show Notes

Wednesday, May 29, 2013 Host(s): Dr. Bill Maier
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Could suicide be “contagious?” If you’re a teenager—it just might be.

According to a story in the Los Angeles Times, new research has confirmed what some experts already suspected. When a high school student commits suicide, other kids at their school may think about killing themselves—or worse yet, attempt to take their own life. 

For several years psychologists have believed that suicide is "contagious," meaning exposure to it can increase the risk, but there have been few studies that actually looked into that possibility.

In a study published last week in the Canadian Medical Assn. Journal, researchers surveyed thousands of teenagers about their response to a classmates’ suicide. 

The researchers said "Adolescents may be particularly susceptible to this contagion effect.” They found that more than 13% of teen suicides may be explained by so-called suicide “clustering."

School-wide interventions after a suicide often last a few months , but the researchers say that’s not long enough. It appears that effects of suicide contagion may last at least two years

By the age of 16 or 17, more than 24% of the students surveyed reported that someone at their school had committed suicide, and 20% said they knew the person who killed themselves.

If a teen at your child’s school has committed suicide, ask school administrators if they are aware of the new research. And if your child ever reports feeling hopeless or hints that they’ve been thinking about taking their own life, take their words very seriously and seek professional help. 

To learn more about the warning signs of adolescent suicide, go the American Psychological Association’s website at apa.org.

I’m Bill Maier for WBCL.

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