Patterns of suicide mortality in England and Wales before and after the suicide of the actor Robin Williams

Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2021 Oct;56(10):1801-1808. doi: 10.1007/s00127-021-02059-z. Epub 2021 Mar 20.

Abstract

Purpose: There is international evidence supporting an association between sensational reporting of suicide and a subsequent increase in local suicide rates, particularly where reporting the death of a celebrity. We aimed to explore whether the observed increase in suicides in the United States, Canada and Australia in the 5 months following the 2014 suicide of the popular actor Robin Williams was also observed in England and Wales.

Method: We used interrupted time-series analysis and a seasonal autoregressive integrated moving averages (SARIMA) model to estimate the expected number of suicides during the 5 months following Williams' death using monthly suicide count data for England and Wales from the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) 2013-2014.

Results: Compared with the observed 2051 suicide deaths in all age groups from August to December 2014, we estimated that we would have expected 1949 suicides over the same period, representing no statistically significant excess.

Conclusions: This finding is an outlier among previous studies and contrasts with the approximately 10% increase in suicides found in similar analyses conducted in other high-income English-speaking countries with established media reporting guidelines.

Keywords: Broadcast media; Celebrity; Media guidelines; Printed media; Suicide.

MeSH terms

  • England / epidemiology
  • Famous Persons*
  • Humans
  • Mass Media
  • Suicide*
  • United States
  • Wales / epidemiology