The Werther Effect
Not long ago, the media highly publicized the suicide of fashion designer Kate Spade. Yesterday, Anthony Bourdain took his own life, another act highly publicized by the media. Both individuals were highly successful in what they were doing, were icons in their area of expertise and both were about the same age when they committed suicide. Anthony Bourdain left no reason behind his act and we can only speculate on why he did what he did. I’m attributing his action to the Werther Effect.
What is the Werther Effect? In a few words, this effect refers to a wave of copycat suicides following a highly publicized one. The name Werther comes from Goethe’s novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther. In the novel Wether commits suicide by shooting himself with a pistol after being rejected by the woman he loves. After the publication of the novel, a wave of young men using the same method to end their lives resulted in the book being banned in some places.
The people who commit copycat acts tend to identify with the persons that ended their lives, to have the same age and gender. We only know about the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain because of their highly publicized profiles, we don’t know about the other people who copied their acts and died in their shadows. This effect rises questions about the ethics of publicizing suicides.
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