Background: After the railway suicide of the German national goalkeeper Robert Enke in 2009, a significant increase of railway suicides was observed nationally. This study analyses whether this incident also triggered copycat effects in other European countries. Additionally, media coverage proxied by Google Trends and long-term changes taking into account general changes in suicide rates and kilometres driven by trains were examined.
Methods: The numbers of railway suicides before and after Enke´s suicide were analysed for short and long-term periods (2 weeks and 2 years post-event) across five European countries. Incidence ratios and resulting percentage changes were computed.
Results: Similar to Germany, there were significant short and long-term effects for the combined data of the four other countries (increase of 93.9%; p=0.004 and 16.7%; p=0.003). There was no indication that long-term effects are a mere reflection of an overall increase in suicide frequencies or due to increased numbers of kilometres driven by trains. Analyses on country level revealed heterogeneous results.
Limitations: Due to incomplete data, analyses regarding age and gender were not performed. Media coverage was only proxied by a Google Trends analysis. The study includes a small sample of European countries.
Conclusions: Enke's suicide in 2009 was followed by increasing train suicide numbers in Europe. Although this incident may have reinforced an existing European trend of growing railway suicides, an international copycat effect and/or an increased overall awareness about this particular suicide method appears to be one likely explanation for the changes.
Keywords: Celebrity suicide; Copycat suicide; Google Trends; International imitation effects; Railway suicide; Werther effect.
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