Study: Robin Williams’ death led people to take their own lives

People pause by a bench at Boston’s Public Garden, Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014, where a small memorial sprung up at the place where Robin Williams filmed a scene during the movie, “Good Will Hunting.” Photo: Elise Amendola/Associated Press

The notion that media coverage or mentions of suicides sparks others to take their own lives got a boost today when a scientific journal released a research paper saying that suicides spiked after Robin Williams killed himself.

The research, in the PLOS One journal, said suicides spiked by 10% in the five months after Williams’ 2014 death, the BBC says.

It is not a certainty that the two are linked, by the study said it “appeared” to be connected, the BBC says.

For the latest study, they looked at the monthly suicide rates from the US government Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between January 1999 and December 2015 to see if there had been a spike.

They found there were 18,690 suicides between August and December 2014 compared with the 16,849 cases they would have expected.

In the weeks after Williams’s death, there was a “drastic” increase in references to suicide and death in news media reports, as well as more posts on an internet suicide forum researchers monitored, the study found.

David Fink, one of the study’s authors, from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, said research had previously shown that suicide rates increased following a high-profile celebrity suicide, but this was a first time such a study had been done within the era of the 24-hour news cycle.

He told the BBC: “By other people being aware of this person that they saw and can relate to having this experience, they gained the ability to take this action that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.

At issue is the publication and broadcast of the method Williams used to take his own life, according to the researchers.

“The more people hear and learn about the specific details of it, the more they can relate to it, potentially,” Fink said.

Suicides by suffocation increased by 32 percent, while suicides by all other methods rose 3 percent, researchers said in a statement from the university, the Boston Globe said. The “suffocation” category includes hanging, is the method Williams used. Men 30-to-34 were particularly affected.

Fink acknowledged that perhaps something else was going on at the same time that led more people to take their own lives, but he said it’s unlikely.

Archive: Why Robin Williams’ death has hit us so hard (NewsCut)