Suicide mortality in the United States following the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain
The suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, two major American icons, in a span of days in June 2018 represent a unique and tragic natural experiment to characterize associations with actual suicides in the aftermath of celebrity suicides. The aim of this study was to identify changes in suicide counts after their deaths.
Suicide data were obtained from the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s public-use mortality file. A time-series analysis was performed, examining monthly suicide data by age group (⩽19, 20–44, 45–64 and ⩾65 years), for both men and women, for all suicide methods and for hanging versus non-hanging methods, from January 1999 to December 2018. Seasonal autoregressive integrated moving-average models were fitted to the pre-June 2018 period, estimating suicides in subsequent months and identifying deviations from expected values. The volume of Twitter posts about Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain was used as a proxy of societal attention.
Tweets about the celebrities were mainly concentrated in June 2018 and faded quickly in July. Total suicides exceeded the 95% confidence interval for June and approximated the upper limit of the 95% confidence interval in July. Over this 2-month span, there were 418 (95% confidence interval = [184, 652]) more suicides than expected, including 275 (95% confidence interval = [79, 471]) excess suicides in men and 182 (95% confidence interval = [93, 271]) in women. These equate to 4.8%, 4.1% and 9.1% increases above expected counts. There were 392 (95% confidence interval = [271, 514]) excess suicides by hanging, a 14.5% increase, with no significant increase in all other methods combined.
Conclusion and Relevance:
These findings demonstrate that mortality following celebrity suicides can occur at a similar magnitude to that observed for other public health emergencies. They underscore the urgency for interventions to mitigate imitation effects after celebrity suicide reporting.
M Sinyor, U. Tran, D. Garcia, B. Till, M. Voracek, T. Niederkrotenthaler, Suicide mortality in the United States following the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry (Dec 2020)
This publication was supported by the following project(s):
- WWTF, Project No. WWTF VRG16-005