It was Wednesday the day we heard about the loss of the beloved American actor, who was suffering from a mental disease. On August 13, 2014, the Academy-awarded Robin Williams decided to take his life and left millions of people across the world broken. As this new study showed this Wednesday, that event marked the beginning of a new season. After having analyzed national data, these Columbia University researchers concluded that Mr. Williams’s death impulsed other people to do the same.

The paper published in the PLOS ONE journal read that health authorities have seen before previous cases of people who feel intrigued or inspired due to a celebrity suicide. Kurt Kobain’s death, for example, made dozens of people acting similar to him. Thus, provoking a spike in the data.

The experts wrote that “irresponsible” media could play a big part in the copycat cases. In fact, The World and Health Organization (WHO) and other suicide experts even have large-developed guidelines for the press teach them how to cover such unfortunate events. They include a series of different advises – like to lower the tone and to not give details.

The experts suggested they found a link between the risen number of suicides in the United States that took place within the five months following Mr. William’s death and that same event. When the scientists compared the data of before, and after the end of that period, they saw there was around 10 percent of difference in between.

Robin Williams's death influenced in others' cases, Guidelines from the World and Health Organization, The tone used by the media
Robin Williams was really-welcomed among the public. Image credit: Getty

Although that amount covers both men and women, male cases were who showed the most relevant changes. Among those whose ages were 30 and 44 years old, the experts noted that the suicide rate rose almost 13 percent. But even more impressive was that 32.3 percent of men died the same way that Mr. Williams committed suicide: by suffocation.

“The effect you see… Is so dramatic, you don’t even need statistics to see it,” said lead author David S. Fink, who was noting the difference of cases that took place 5 months after the American actor’s suicide, and those same 5 months of the previous year. “That’s very rare to see an effect so big you just need the statistics to confirm it. You can see it with the naked eye.”

It’s important to remind that Mr. Williams never openly commented he was suffering from Lewy Body Dementia – which is a Parkinson’s-like form of dementia. For that time, even weeks before, he was in different projects: working at series of films, giving interviews to the media, and also attending to various events.  His death surprised many of his fans.

An accurate difference

The Samaritans warned at that moment that there were too many articles misusing words to describe and detail the nature of suicide – something that’s against the guidelines mentioned before.

As the researchers of this study wrote, there was “substantial evidence” to think that a series of media outlets completely passed over these guidelines

Robin Williams's death influenced in others' cases, Guidelines from the World and Health Organization, The tone used by the media
Thanks to “Good Will Hunting,” Mr. Williams won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1998.Image credit: Sutcliffe

When the researchers compared the estimated number of suicides to the actual number – shown in the data between August and December 2014 -, they saw a truly-notable difference. They said that, considering previous years, they expected around 16,849 of deaths. However, the real number ended being 18,690 – or 1,841 additional cases.

Fink and the other authors of the study said that they based their estimations not on average, but on long-term trends. Thus, to have a more accurate result.

The media playing a big role

To achieve that, they looked information from the US government Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of self-generated deaths per month, between January 1999 and December 2015. This way, they could note the existence of any spike.

The study found that the week after Mr. William’s death had a “drastic” increase in suicide material on the internet. They saw that the outlets were not the only ones over-covering and over-mentioning the event, but also people on social media.

Robin Williams's death influenced in others' cases, Guidelines from the World and Health Organization, The tone used by the media
People prayed at his Walk of Fame star when he died. Image credit: Spirit Journey

Although this is not the first that a celebrity suicide case seems reflected in other humans, the researchers noted that it is the first time that happens within the era of the 24-hour news cycle.

“By other people being aware of this person that they saw and can relate to having this experience, they gained the ability to take this action that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible. That is where the press comes in,” the author from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health said. “The more people hear and learn about the specific details of it, the more they can relate to it, potentially.”

The researchers hoped not to see again suck a spike again.

Source: PLOS ONE