Background: Deaths of celebrities, especially by suicide, can be followed by an increase in population suicide rates, particularly where there is extensive media reporting. We have examined the impact on suicides following the death of a famous Hong Kong pop singer whose death from suicide by jumping from a height, occurred on 1st April 2003, and resulted in extensive and often dramatic media coverage.
Methods: Data on suicides were obtained from the Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department and the Coroner's Court. The numbers of suicides in 2003 before and after the death of celebrity were compared to the same period in 1998-2002. The case files and suicide notes of people who died by suicide in 2003 were also studied qualitatively.
Results: There was a significant increase in suicides following the celebrity death, compared with the average over the preceding three months as well as the corresponding monthly average during 1998-2002. It was particularly marked in a subgroup comprising males, aged 25-39 years, many of whom died by jumping. The name of the celebrity was often mentioned in case files and suicide notes.
Limitations: The statistical results in showing the excess of suicides were based on aggregated data only.
Conclusions: This study provides further confirmation of the potential harmful consequences of sensational and excessive reporting of celebrity deaths.