Widespread news coverage and social media response may have contributed to 10% rise in suicide rates in the US after Hollywood actor Robin Williams took his own life in 2014, a new study by a Columbia University researcher, David Fink, published on Wednesday indicates. Celebrity suicides spark copycat deaths and the sharp rise in suicides was noted particularly among men aged 30 to 44 who used the same method as Williams to end their lives. The study blamed the rise in social media for spreading graphic detail of Williams’ suicide to vulnerable fans. While Fink did not analyse how media coverage affects suicide rates, the sheer volume of stories written about Williams after his death could have contributed to a jump in such cases. The study, quoting monthly reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says that in the four months after William’s death in August 2014, there were 18,690 suicides against 16,849 suicides during the same period last year and the figures during the period in previous years. The study tracked news trends online from June 2013 to January 2015, to see how the suicide rate reflected the amount of information about suicide online. Social media shares including the terms ‘suicide’ and ‘dead,’ and the name ‘Robin Williams’ drastically increased in the weeks after Williams’ suicide. Williams committed suicide at 63 years old after being diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia.
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