[The "Werther-effect": legend or reality?]

Neuropsychiatr. 2007;21(4):284-90.
[Article in German]


In social sciences and in medicine, the term "Werther-effect" is used as a synonym for media induced imitation effects of suicidal behaviour. In Goethe s novel, the contemporary recipient could find a lot of details to identify with. One of these aspects is the detailed description of Werther s mental state, which suggests that suicidality plays a role in the novel a long time before the suicidal act at the end. Even though we find several reports on imitation effects connected to Goethe s Werther in literary works, the epidemiological extent of this phenomenon could never be determined. Also current social scientific research on the impact of suicide stories on suicidal behaviour could not completely remove the remaining lack of evidence of the phenomenon. Nevertheless, many studies support the hypothesis, that some aspects of quality of reporting could trigger short-term increases of suicides in certain population subgroups. In Austria, "Media Guidelines for Reporting on Suicides", have been issued to the media since 1987 as a suicide-preventive experiment. Since then, the aims of the experiment have been to reduce the numbers of suicides and suicide attempts in the Viennese subway and to reduce the overall suicide numbers. After the introduction of the media guidelines, the number of subway suicides and suicide attempts dropped more than 80% within 6 months. Since 1991, suicides plus suicide attempts - but not the number of suicides alone - have slowly and significantly increased. The increase of passenger numbers of the Viennese subway, which have nearly doubled, and the decrease of the overall suicide numbers in Vienna (-40%) and Austria (-33%) since mid 1987 increase the plausibility of the hypothesis, that the Austrian media guidelines have had an impact on suicidal behavior.

Publication types

  • English Abstract

MeSH terms

  • Austria
  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imitative Behavior*
  • Literature, Modern
  • Male
  • Mass Media*
  • Medicine in Literature
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Railroads
  • Risk Factors
  • Suicide / psychology*
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data
  • Suicide Prevention
  • Suicide, Attempted / prevention & control
  • Suicide, Attempted / psychology
  • Suicide, Attempted / statistics & numerical data