Abstract

This paper explores the how mass media influences societal views of mental illness by looking at the relationship between media portrayals of celebrity suicide, and the occurrence of suicide contagion. This is accomplished by reviewing published research about suicide contagion, as well as primary and secondary media coverage of celebrities that were purported to have committed suicide. Previous research shows that suicide continues to be an issue in the United States, and that, historically and internationally, media reporting has contributed to suicide contagion. Biographical examination of 29 celebrities who are thought to have committed suicide reveals trends related to methods of suicide, psychosocial and developmental histories, and other factors contributing to suicide. Results indicate that most celebrities utilized gender-typical methods of suicide, suffered from mental illness, and experienced stress and loss. Review of media reports of celebrity suicide demonstrates which aspects of reporting contribute to unrealistic views of suicide, and may influence suicide contagion. This review also looks at which aspects of suicide reporting may have changed for more accurate depictions of suicide. Courses for future research are proposed, along with suggestions for what actions might be taken in order to hold media sources accountable and reduce the occurrence of suicide contagion.

Semester/Year of Award

Fall 12-4-2015

Mentor

Theresa Botts

Department/Professional Affiliation

Psychology

Access Options

Restricted Access Thesis

Degree Name

Honors Scholars

Department

Psychology

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