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Mass media representation of suicide in a high suicide state in India: an epidemiological comparison with suicide deaths in the population
  1. Gregory Armstrong1,
  2. Lakshmi Vijayakumar2,
  3. Jane Pirkis3,
  4. Mala Jayaseelan2,
  5. Anish Cherian4,
  6. Jane Brandt Soerensen5,
  7. Vikas Arya6,
  8. Thomas Niederkrotenthaler7
  1. 1Nossal Institute for Global Health, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  2. 2Department of Psychiatry, Voluntary Health Services Hospital, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
  3. 3Centre for Mental Health, Melbourne School of Population Health, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
  4. 4Department of Psychiatric Social Work, National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences, Bangalore, Karnataka, India
  5. 5Department of Public Health, Kobenhavns Universitet, Kobenhavns, Denmark
  6. 6Translational Health Research Institute (THRI), Western Sydney University, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  7. 7Center for Public Health, Department of General Practice and Family Medicine, Medical University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria
  1. Correspondence to Dr Gregory Armstrong; g.armstrong{at}unimelb.edu.au

Abstract

Objectives Suicide rates in India are among the highest in the world, equating to over 200 000 suicides annually. Reports of suicides are a routine feature in major newspapers in India, and reporters may selectively present ‘newsworthy’ suicide stories. The aim of this paper was to systematically investigate whether mass media reports of suicides reflect the epidemiological data on suicide in a high suicide state in India.

Design We undertook a content analysis study to extract sociodemographic data on suicides reported among nine of the most highly read daily newspapers in the high suicide southern state of Tamil Nadu between June and December 2016. A total of 1258 newspaper articles were retrieved containing reports on 1631 suicides. Two-tailed binomial tests on aggregate frequencies assessed whether the sociodemographic characteristics of suicides in the newspaper articles were different to the population suicide statistics for Tamil Nadu.

Results We identified some statistically significant discrepancies between suicide characteristics in the population and the media. Suicides involving females (p<0.001), those aged under 30 years (p<0.001), separated or widowed males (p<0.001), unmarried females (p<0.001), those using methods with a higher case fatality rate (ie, hanging (p<0.001), jumping off high structures (p<0.001) and coming under vehicles (p<0.001) and those who were students (p<0.001) or working in the agricultural sector (p<0.001) were significantly over-reported relative to their occurrence in the broader population. Suicides involving men (p<0.001), those aged over 30 years and above (p<0.001), those who were married and suicides by poisoning (p<0.001) were significantly under-reported relative to their occurrence in the broader population.

Conclusions The suicide characteristics in the print media were not entirely representative of suicides in the broader Tamil Nadu population, which may lead the general public to develop misunderstandings about suicide in their state. The discrepancies we identified will inform tailored suicide prevention education for media professionals.

  • mental health
  • journalism (see medical journalism)

This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited, appropriate credit is given, any changes made indicated, and the use is non-commercial. See: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/.

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Footnotes

  • Contributors GA designed the study, supervised the data collection and led the data analyses and drafting of the manuscript. LV and TN supported the design of the study. MJ implemented data collection. LV, JP, MJ, AC, JBS, VA and TN all contributed to the data analysis plan, interpretation of the results and the development of the final manuscript.

  • Funding The lead author is funded by an Early Career Fellowship from the National Health and Medical Research Council in Australia (GNT1138096). This study was funded by Early Career Researcher Awards from The Society for Mental Health Research and The University of Melbourne.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval The data used in this study are from publicly available documents. Nonetheless, we obtained ethics approvals from the Human Ethics Advisory Group at The University of Melbourne in Australia (ID: 1646245.1).

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement Data are available on reasonable request.

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