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Tennessee Researchers Ask, "Is Suicide Contagious?"

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WMOT)  --  A study released this month by researchers at the University of Memphis suggests suicide can be contagious, especially among young people.

Sociologist Anna Mueller and colleague Seth Arbrutyn conducted the study. Their findings indicate suicide is what Mueller calls “socially contagious.” If a friend or family member commits suicide, people they know are likely to think about or attempt suicide.

Mueller says the tendency is especially pronounced in young people

“Especially when adolescents have a friend attempt suicide they are at increased risk of both new suicide thoughts and attempts up to 12 months after the suicide attempt of their friend. We also find that family members, when they attempt suicide, that is also associated with an increased risk of suicide.”

Mueller says suicide contagion is more pronounced in girls than in boys, and for females the effect can last into early adult-hood.

She says parents and schools need to have a plan in place to immunize young people against copycat suicide should the unthinkable happen.

“The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has wonderful resources for schools. They have something called a “tool kit” for schools after a suicide death. So I really encourage both parents and people working in schools to just take a look at that information.”

Mueller says she and her colleague will turn their research next to the question of why suicide is contagious.