Canadian Study Reveals Teen Suicide May Be Infectious

Youth Suicide

A recent study from the University of Ottawa implies suicide may be inspire the same disturbing behavior in other young individuals, especially when they listen to stories about other people committing suicide.

The term is called “suicide contagion” – according to Dr. Ian Colman, a professor in the university’s department of epidemiology and community medicine.

Suicide Contagion

Dr. Colman said that suicide contagion – the idea that someone else’s suicide can make you want to be suicidal — “does occur, especially among younger adolescents.”

Researchers assessed findings from Statistics Canada’s Canadian National Survey of Children and Youth between 1998-1999 and 2006-2007. The survey asked youth between ages 12-17 and incorporated a follow-up examination done two years later. Over 22,000 adolescents contributed to this survey.

Youth Suicide Rate

The study discovered that 12- and 13-year-olds who had been exposed to suicide were five times more likely to be pondering suicide themselves or to claim that they have tried to kill themselves.

This dramatic finding appears slightly less true for older adolescents. 14- and 15-year-olds were documented to be three times more likely to contemplate or attempt suicide, and 16- and 17-year-olds twice as likely.

Suicide Causes

Adolescents who either attended school or otherwise were somehow acquainted with a person who lost their life to suicide were much more probable to seriously consider or try killing themselves, according to the study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Dr. Colman also explained another relevant finding: that a youth could still be affected by another’s suicide, even if they weren’t close to them or didn’t know them well.

Hospitilization for Self Harm

However, specifically going to the same school with a suicidal person would be “close” enough. The researchers – who reflected their results on a Statistics Canada survey of over 22,000 Canadian youth – recorded that students were more likely to experience suicidal thoughts or behaviours if they attended the same school as someone who died by suicide, rather than if they actually knew someone else who did, such as an adult. Researchers think that difference can be supported by the assumption that suicide amongst peers stimulates a more intense impact.

Or so it seems – that suicide’s effect on youth really does last long. Researchers noted the effect – referred to as “suicide contagion” – can continue for two years or longer. The study also observed that the effects of knowing or attending school with someone who took their own life aren’t quite temporary. In the two year sequel of the study, it was shown that many adolescents exposed to suicide recalled suicidal symptoms. This study could also be implemented in the two year span between when a 13-year-old participated in this study and then their followup. The study proved that approximately 25% of students know of someone who killed themselves by the time they reach 16 or 17.

Suicide Hospital

If you think the connection between one student’s suicide and another’s is irrelevant, think again. More specifically, these numbers could require less time than two years to influence suicide – especially if a student decides to commit suicide immediately or relatively quickly after another. Those 12 and 13-year-olds were five times more likely to at least had committing suicide cross their minds, and 7.5% literally tried to after a schoolmate’s suicide.

The study particularly determined that out of the 12- and 13-year-olds, 15.3 % of those who knew of someone who committed suicide in just that same year actually contemplated killing themselves – in contrast to the 3.4 per cent who hadn’t been exposed to suicide. Among the same group, 7.5 per cent of those who knew someone physically tried to perform a suicidal act themselves, compared to less than 2 per cent of those not exposed. Approximate numerical findings suggest the same result for 16 and 17-year-olds.

Suicide Attempt

Furthermore, researchers spoke out in a press release, warning of the involuntary consequences of giving a suicidal person too much attention in the media. Instead of this attention being translated into awareness and prevention of suicide, it can counterintuitively encourage suicide.

In other words, glorifying an individual – specifically a youth in this case – after their suicide may actually make other youth desire to be cared about or spoken about in the same way, seeing if they would attain the same reaction if they were to pass. It’s almost like a popularity contest.


So, how can we solve this? Dr. Colman recommends that schools should concentrate on suicide prevention programs that relate to students as a whole, not just those who attempted to commit suicide; therefore, the focus will be on the negative effects of suicide and not celebrating the life (or death) of a person. While there is no proof that youth suicide rates are literally increasing across Canada (but note the multiple youth suicide news stories this year), it is apparent that youth are at least thinking about it.

“Our findings support school- or community-wide interventions over strategies targeting those who personally knew the decedent … (and) implies that schools and communities should be aware of an increased risk for at least two years following a suicide event,” the authors write in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

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