Experts warn of copycat incidents

Extreme exposure to a singular case of suicide can spark copycat incidents and the widespread media coverage can be counterproductive, say experts.

Within two days of Vismaya’s death a handful of similar cases have been reported from various parts of the State and the overwhelming reportage has been pointed out as one reason for this sudden spurt.

“Generally, persons who share the same situation of the victim will have a tendency to identify with them or imitate them. Distressed and vulnerable ones may feel inspired to end their life and it’s a known psychological phenomenon. These are not planned acts but impulsive decisions triggered by an immediate stimuli,” says Harish M.T., former president, Indian Psychiatric Society, Kerala branch.

Romanticising suicides and presenting victims as martyrs can be another issue, as troubled individuals on the brink are deeply influenced by that. “After Vismaya’s death, similar cases have been reported from Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Alappuzha, and Idukki. It’s a sort of ripple effect as some girls who are struggling with domestic abuse will see it as an ideal option,” says Thampy Mathai, Director, Maithri, the Kochi-based NGO operating a suicide-prevention helpline for the past 25 years.

Intimate details, video clips, and pictures of the victim circulating on social media also increases the risk factor. Mr. Mathai points out media coverage given to families committing suicide as another example.

“It will appear as a sensational story next day. After most such incidents you will come across a string of similar cases, though the media attention they garner may vary,” he says.

In people facing mental health issues, this overdose of information through newspapers, channels, and social media can trigger suicidal thoughts.

“It’s like putting them on a poisonous diet for a few days. They will start internalising all the negativity in the reports and see suicide as a solution or even as a means to extract revenge,” says S. Smitha, psychologist.

Though various bodies, including World Health Organization, have issued guidelines for reporting suicides, many fail to follow it.

“The intention of the media will be good, but their over-indulgence comes with this potential drawback. While the stories of survivors don’t get much attention, suicides are celebrated for days. They should take care to avoid glaring headlines and graphic details at least,” she adds.

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Printable version | Jul 30, 2021 8:56:00 AM |

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