Background: The railway suicide of Robert Enke, an internationally respected German football goal keeper, sent shockwaves throughout the world of football. We analyzed its impact on the frequency of subsequent railway suicide acts (RS).
Methods: Two analytic approaches were performed applying German Railway Event database Safety (EDS) data: first, an inter-year approach comparing the incidence of RS during a predefined "index period" with identical time windows in 2006 to 2008; second, an intra-year approach comparing the number of RS 28 days before and after the incidence. To analyze a possible "compensatory deficit", the number of RS in the subsequent first quarter of 2010 was compared with the identical time windows in the preceding three years. Incidence ratios with 95% confidence intervals were estimated by Poisson regression. Findings were controlled for temperature.
Findings: Compared to the preceding three years, the incidence ratio (IR) of the number of RS in the index period increased by 1.81 (1.48-2.21; p<0.001), leading to an overall percentage change of 81% (48-121%; p<0.001). Comparing the number of suicides 28 days before and after the incidence revealed an even more pronounced increase of IR (2.2; 1.6-3.0). No modifications of these associations were observed by daytime, by location of the suicide and fatality. No compensatory deficit occurred in the post-acute period.
Interpretation: The substantial increase of RS in the aftermath of the footballer's suicide death brought about copycat behavior in an unforeseen amount, even though the media reporting was largely sensitive and preventive measures were taken.
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