The effect of the media on suicide: the Great Depression

Suicide Life Threat Behav. Summer 1992;22(2):255-67.


Previous work on the media and suicide has neglected the mood of the audience in its models. The present study tests the thesis from symbolic interaction theory that the degree of media influence is contingent on audience receptivity. Audience receptivity to suicide stories is assumed to be high in the Great Depression given widespread unemployment, a condition thought to promote suicidogenic mood such as anomie. A taxonomy of stories is developed using classic imitation, social learning, and differential identification theories. Analysis of monthly data on suicide and publicized stories finds, however, little supporting evidence. Only stories concerning political leaders were associated with suicide. Stories concerning other categories of victims, such as villains, entertainers, and foreigners, were not associated with suicide. Possibly the potential impact was offset by other factors such as the absence of television to echo for the messages carried by the newspapers and radio and heightened political integration.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Mass Media / history*
  • Politics*
  • Suicide / history*
  • Unemployment / history*
  • United States / epidemiology