Copycat Suicides, is there anything that can be done?

Copycat suicides, also referred to as suicide clusters, can happen when high profile individuals tragically end their lives. These suicides are widely covered by news media outlets such as the cases with the tragic recent suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade. Copycat suicides can also be triggered when there is a suicide of another person known to him/her, particularly if that person had experienced suicidal ideation him/herself.  As a licensed psychotherapist myself, I’ve had several people tell me this past week that hearing about the two completed suicides in the news was extremely triggering for them.  It unearthed additional waves of suffering inside them because they are all too familiar with the unimaginable emotional pain accompanied by depression and/or trauma and the moments where their mind had contemplated ways to avoid/escape that pain.  It was encouraging to see some media coverage from this past week, such as CNN covering Kate Spade’s death, being sensitive and insightful enough to offer mental health support options, such as suicide or crisis hotlines, embedded into their article.

When Robin Williams took his own life in 2014, a study concluded that suicides increased by as much as 10% within the 5 months following the great comedian’s death.
Suicide rates in general have been rising by as much as 30% in the last 20 years. Most of these suicides are not covered by the news media but, of course, have a devastating and far-reaching impacts on friends and loved ones.

So is there anything that can be done?

Having a trusted therapeutic relationship with a licensed psychotherapist can be a significant contributor to a reduction in suicides/copycat suicides. According to the US National Library of Medicine, suicide rates can be reduced almost in half when an individual has a licensed psychotherapist with whom to work closely. So what prevents more people from investing in this type of relationship with a licensed psychotherapist? One contributor might be the shame that persists with the topic of mental health. The shame people feel can sometimes prevent them from admitting the degree to which they’re suffering and the willingness to reach out and ask for and accept help.  Financial constraints can be another significant barrier for people to reach out to a psychotherapist to address and heal the types of issues that can trigger suicidal thinking, such as Major Depressive Disorder, Anxiety Disorders, Trauma, Chemical Dependency and other Addictions, as well as other disorders that trigger extreme emotional distress and dysregulation.

When we want to improve our fitness we often turn to a certified personal trainer. When we want to improve our eating habits we often turn to a licensed nutritionist. When we need to address a pain in our joints we turn to a licensed doctor who may perform surgery, prescribe medication and/or recommend therapy by a licensed physiotherapist to minimize the pain. These are all wise decisions that are viewed as admirable by others. Turning to a licensed psychotherapist needs to be seen in the same way – with no shame attached. Think of a licensed psychotherapist as a licensed brain coach, someone who can teach you the coping skills to empower you to be mentally and emotionally stronger when facing signs of depression, anxiety, trauma, and/or just general sense of overwhelm with life. A psychotherapist can arm you with ways of “meeting” and relating differently to difficult thoughts, emotions and sensations in the body.  He or she can also teach you cognitive skills to identify, challenge and reframe those persistent negative thoughts and emotions which can significantly decrease your distress, see things in more balanced, flexible ways, and leave you feeling mentally stronger to face the challenges that life presents. When choosing a psychotherapist, it is important to ask whether they are qualified and have experience treating the specific issues that you are experiencing.  You are fortunate if you have Extended Healthcare Benefits as your sessions with a licensed psychotherapist can be covered by the insurance company. Also some companies offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) that can be a first step for some to get them going in a positive direction.

Investing in your mental health can significantly improve your mental, physical and overall well-being. Having an ongoing relationship with a licensed psychotherapist can be one of the best investments you make for yourself in the long-term.
If you or someone you know is suffering, please know that you are not alone.  It is not abnormal to suffer, it is part of the human condition.  Here are a few resources that may be helpful for you:
Local Mobile Crisis Intervention Teams – 24/7 mobile support