Select Page

Facebook Mourning and the Werther Effect Among Teens

Werther Effect

Traditional media has a policy of not reporting suicides because of the Werther Effect, which occurs when a wave of emulation suicides occur after a widely publicized suicide. Social media by its very nature could never adhere to a policy of not “reporting” suicides. Obviously, social networking is an activity, not a news organization. The hallmark of social media is share-ability by all users. Thus, as our awareness of specific youth suicides increases the concern is that we will see a rise in copycat suicides.
Surprisingly, very little has been written about this, although Psychologist Romeo Vitelli wrote a Huffington Post article a few months ago about the link between Facebook suicide notes and copycat suicides. In December, Facebook launched a suicide prevention tool that allows friends to report suicidal behavior on Facebook.  Facebook emails the (allegedly) suicidal individual a link to a private online chat with a representative from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and the organization’s phone number.

Generations Y and Z

Suicide rates for Gen Y and Generation Z have been increasing in recent years. This is something that in the last few days has been reported worldwide in a Reuters story about suicide among Canadian girls on the rise and in a Russian media story with an announcement by Russian Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev about the alarming rise in Russian teen suicides.
Here is an excerpt:

Though growing prosperity has tamed Russia’s high rate of adult suicides, the rate of teenage suicides remains three times the world average. Experts blame alcoholism, family dysfunction and other fallout from the Soviet Union’s collapse, as well as the absence of social support networks to help young people.

They also agree with Mr Medvedev that publicity surrounding the suicides could encourage copycat acts.

Facebook Online Mourning

The only suicide I remember from my entire childhood and youth was my brother’s friend, Adam, who killed himself when I was in the 4th or 5th grade. There was no Facebook mourning back then or re-tweeting of grief. The grapevine was slow, and even as a child, I assumed most of what we heard was inaccurate. I never had pictures of the deceased burned into my memory and I never had to absorb an endless stream of public condolences on Facebook.
Growing up, I experienced the loss of a few classmates who died in tragic accidents. These events were rare, but they were mile-markers in my childhood and youth. Although death is part of life and I wouldn’t want to shield my kids from that reality, I don’t want them overly exposed to it either.

Self Inflicted

When I worked as the Public Information Officer for an ambulance service, I was surprised by the number of suicides medics responded to on a regular basis. I had no idea the problem was so widespread. I didn’t know people actually laid down on train tracks, jumped off buildings, or drowned themselves, but it happens. I really don’t think much good can come from heightened awareness about these specific events. We all have enough grief to bear with the people we know in real life, right?

I dreaded reading over the computer-aided dispatch that provided me with information for media queries things like, “GUNSHOT WOUND. SELF INFLICTED.” I didn’t even know these people and it bothered me. I can’t imagine having to see their pictures with family and friends — their lives as they once were in happier times — or hear their mourners on Facebook. But, my 14-year-old has already been exposed to the suicides of three youth she never met, and the subsequent onslaught of virtual mourning played out on the Facebook pages of friends and acquaintances.

According to the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 73 percent of teenagers between 12 and 17 years of age have profiles on social networking sites. This number will only increase bringing it with it a greater awareness of specific youth suicides among individual communities nationwide. Whether there will be a documented correlation between Facebook mourning and copycat suicides remains to be seen.

Gen X Blog Jennifer Chronicles

Thank you for subscribing. Posts are delivered ONCE A WEEK on Sundays at 6 p.m. You can unsubscribe anytime with one click. Also, we will not share your email address with anyone.
Posted in:


  1. granbee

    Jen, I have been thinking a lot about teen suicides induced by bullying events and about the recent suicide of that former NFL player who did so much to benefit San Diego! I am very pleased to know about this new suicide prevention support tool available on Facebook!

  2. jenx67

    That is terrible to hear — and someone young. Just awful. The proximity of news does make it worse, I think.

  3. jenx67

    Thanks, Rob. Is that an actual award – Red Cord of Distinguished Service??

  4. Mccollumrobert

    I really wish that the focus and viral nature of information could be on things like the Red Cord of Distinguished Service award. If there is a parent out there reading this. Ask yourself where is your focus as a parent and where is your kids focus? Finding out what is really important and maybe a few verses from Proverbs couldn’t hurt. Rob

  5. Andi Perullo

    This is so disturbing. Recently a young woman in our community killed herself with a shotgun (can’t stop thinking about it). It’s awful. 🙁

  6. jenx67

     Thanks, Israel. I think we’ll hear a lot more about this in the future from much larger sites than my blog. I wonder what can be done besides just banning your kids from Facebook. Thanks for your comment. jen

  7. israel carrasco

    It’s a new world where instant information can reek havoc. Parents need to speak with children on this topic.


Share Your Thoughts

Pin It on Pinterest