In addition to an ever-increasing evidence bases of harmful effects of sensationalist reporting on suicide, there is increasing evidence for the positive roles media can play in suicide prevention. For a long time, related research has primarily focused on the question if changing sensationalist media conversation may contribute to the prevention of suicide contagion, so-called Werther effects. Experiences from Austria, the first country worldwide to implement media recommendations back in 1987 as well as from other countries nowadays support that active collaboration with the media can help prevent contagion and improve the quality of reporting.
Changing the media conversation to reporting of suicide prevention is still a different task from actively preventing suicide by media reporting, the so-called Papageno effect. The seminal study on the Papageno effect from 2010 identified an associations between the publication of media reports on mastery of crisis and subsequent decreases in suicide rates in regions where media exposure was strong. Studies using individual data now indirectly support the Papageno effect for different media types. A recent randomised controlled trial indicated that a film featuring an individual who was suicidal but got better mainly because he fell in love (Elizabethtown, USA, 2005) reduced suicide risk factors in the audience. This effect was most pronounced in an audience with increased vulnerability to suicide, suggesting that more suicidal individuals may benefit most from such positive messages. Another randomised controlled trial tested the effects of a newspaper report about an individual who managed to cope with his suicidality by seeking professional help, and showed that the story resulted in a reduction in suicidal cognitions in a subset of participants, but not in a control group (Arendt, Till, & Niederkrotenthaler, in press).
Most recent findings suggest that also professional online ressources may have a protective effect. In a recent randomised controlled trial (Till, Tran, & Niederkrotenthaler, 2015) suicide prevention websites featuring professional resources and stories of lived experience had a medium-sized impact in terms of a reduction of suicidal ideation in those participants from the general population with baseline suicidality above the sample median. This effect was present immediately after exposure, and was sustained one week later. In particular, personal beliefs about coping skills increased during the trial. Also knowledge related to suicide improved.
Overall, these findings underline that media can make a very relevant contribution to suicide prevention by minimising sensationalist reporting, and maximising reporting on how to cope with suicidality and adverse circumstances. This presentation will review recent progress in research on the Papageno effect, and provide recommendations for future research and practice.
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