It’s important to note that we cannot know for sure that there is a causal relationship between these two events, and the NIMH admits that as well, but that is in part due to the fact that we never really know what causes any individual case of suicide. What we do know, though, is that there is some history of seeing upticks in the rates of suicide in the wake of media attention over a famous suicide, or other portrayals in popular culture of it.
We know that it is a delicate subject, and reporting on it without giving it much thought can create a contagion effect. This is not good, and I do believe any portrayal, fictional or factual, should be made only after some serious study of how to talk about it, and how not to talk about it.
Personally, I have never watched the show, so I cannot judge for myself whether it was a responsible portrayal. I’ve read in some corners that it was not. I’ve read in others that it was. I will leave that for you to decide, but what this study, and many others, show for sure, is that we need to be very careful about how we speak out about this issue, and make sure we are providing a hopeful message instead of the opposite. I firmly believe we need to talk about it, so that we can provide hope for anyone dealing with it right now. They need to know about people who have been where they are, and have come through the other side, and we need to be sharing those stories.
Go read the whole thing if the subject interests you. I’m only going to quote the most important part, how to reach out.
“Suicidal thoughts or actions (even in very young children) are a sign of extreme distress and should not be ignored.
If you or someone you know needs immediate help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Crisis Text Line: text “home” to 741 741.
Learn more about ways you can help someone who might be at risk for self-harm.”
Update – Dr. John Grohol, who is much more qualified to speak about the results of this study, has chimed in and written about another study that partially contradicts this one. I would highly recommend going and reading his views, which indicate that we simply don’t know for sure one way or another about this. What we do know, however, is summed up nicely here:
In short, it’s not surprising to find that a television show may have an impact on people’s perception of a topic. But at the same time, we shouldn’t over-emphasize the impact such a show can have while ignoring the impact that others can provide to help a person with suicidal thoughts and feelings. If our country had a working mental health system, people who are suicidal wouldn’t be forced to turn to volunteer-run helplines as their first-line treatment option (which is a travesty). If people who were concerned about a friend simply asked them about how they’re really doing — and if concerned about suicide, asking specifically about suicidal thoughts — we could do a better job in making a dent in the suicide rates in this country.