Sunday, December 6, 2009

The copy cat suicide

The phenomena of copy cat suicide has been documented for some time. It is noted that there can be clusters of other suicide attempts after a suicide by those known to the deceased directly or even through the internet. It can also happen when a suicide for some reason gets a lot of publicity or a particularly high profile person suicides. This can lead to a spike in suicides and attempts by people who knew of the deceased through the publicity but was not know them personally.

It should also be noted that the copy cat effect could apply when some one is just talking about and demonstrating suicidal behaviour not only when a suicide is completed. For instance if one has a peer or relative who makes suicide attempts, talks about their suicidal thoughts and plans, displays suicide notes, displays stock piled medication, a tube for gassing self in a car or a rope for hanging self and so forth then there can be a copy cat effect.

Why would a person copy another individual who has suicided. It would seem that there are three possible psychological phenomena at work with copy cat suicides. It seems reasonable to conclude and the research would agree that the more emotional importance the suicidal person has to the individual the more likely the occurrence of a copy cat attempt. The most obvious one being a parent, a close loved one or with teenagers a close friend, member of his gang or community.

Look at how the man and boy are standing

Modelling. The term copy cat means precisely that, copying. People copy each other’s behaviour, thoughts and feelings especially of those who are important. Humans model on each other and in transactional analysis terms the modelled behaviour is placed in the Parent ego state as a tape. If the two other aspects of the personality, that is the Child and Adult ego states are consistent with suicidal behaviour then modelling suicidal behaviour could result in a copy cat suicide attempt being undertaken.

Parent ego state tapes

Permissions. In order to behave a certain way people sometimes seek permission from others to do so. This often happens in counselling. The client has decided on a course of action but feels unsure about it and thus seeks out a counsellor to get permission to do it. That may be to leave a marriage, change jobs, confront mother and so forth. If someone else says its OK to do it then the person feels more confident and secure in taking the course of action.

This of course can also apply for suicidal behaviour. If one has a parent or close friend who is talking about suicide, displaying methods of suicide, attempting suicide or even completes a suicide attempt this can be permission giving. By watching another person act in a certain way can be taken as a permission by the individual to behave in the same way. Again, if the rest of the personality is prone to suicidal behaviour then such permissions can lead to suicide attempts by the person.

This permission giving aspect of copy cat suicide attempts can lead to angst amongst parents of teenagers who listen to rock music that have lyrics about suicide. The parents see the rock stars as possibly giving permission to the teenagers to behave in suicidal ways. If the rock star is idolised by the teenager then the permission giving can be quite strong indeed. However rock music lyrics have never made anyone suicidal but it could play some sort of role in permission giving as is described here. If the rest of the personality is not consistent with suicidal acts then it is not going to happen.

Normalising behaviour. If a teenager is in a peer group where others are getting tattoos then the actual act of getting a tattoo become normalised. It is no longer seen as an abnormal act in the eyes of the teenager and thus he is more likely to get a tattoo of his own. If a teenager listens to a peer talk about and plan a suicide then that makes the behaviour more normal. If one sees mother complete a suicide that makes the behaviour more normal for the child.



  1. I feel the copy cat thing can also be related to knowing that a particular method worked. A big worry for me that keeps me from doing anything is worrying that I would do enough to cause damage, but not enough to die. Causing a worse situation in the end.
    I could easily see how exposure to a person whoused a certain method might give a little push to somoene already vulnerable.

  2. Hello Lee,

    I recall counselling a guy long ago who was in a wheelchair. He had tried to kill himself by jumping off a building. He did not die but broke his back so he could not walk again.

    I also recall some time ago you having said stuff about methods of doing it and how you would keep them secret and so forth and you drew that picture of you lying on the bed.


  3. Yea Tony, I tried it back in September and it clearly did not work so I think the idea is now ruined.

    It was about ODing on Nicotine patches (putting the whole box on at once) I threw in some painkillers too.
    Ended up making myself throw up the whole mess tho after I got scared.

  4. Hello Lee,

    Thanks for telling me that and you must have been feeling very bad at the time.

    Are you willing to tell me more about it?

    Take care

  5. What would you like to know?
    I wrote a post about it here -->

  6. I will go and have a look Lee,

    I have to shoot off to work now so I will respond in more detail later.
    I have been contracted to write a book on the topic and will use some case studies (disguised of course). What you have said here could be relevant to what I am writing on exactly at this moment.



  7. In a way the nicotine patch thing could be considered somewhat copy cat
    Not the idea of using it for suicide but the idea that you could OD on it. I got that from a movie :P

  8. Hi Lee,

    I am interested in any thoughts or feelings you may have when you hear about someone else suciding or planning and so forth.

    However my main interest at the moment is this comment of yours
    It was about ODing on Nicotine patches (putting the whole box on at once) I threw in some painkillers too.
    Ended up making myself throw up the whole mess tho after I got scared. (end quote)

    What was your thinking and feeling prior to ingestion and then you say you got scared. what were you specifically scared of. What were you thinking and feeling around that time and then after stopping the attempt what was your thinking and feeling then.

    Obviously the more candor the better, but I do understand that it may be difficult for you to discuss this. Backchannel is OK if you prefer.



    PS I just read your post and I could certainly use some of it with your approval?
    I am especially interested in the part where you state:

    I lay down in my bed for awhile. I’m not sure how long, maybe an hour. I decided I’d made some bad decisions.(end quote)

    What was the thinking that led you to conclude that you had made some bad decisions

  9. A friend of mine killed himself a few years ago. He hung himself. I felt envious of him succeeding. But I wouldn't use his method in particular. With hanging the height you need to drop from is related to how much you weigh. If you weigh more you need less height. I don't weigh a lot. I'd need a drop so high I'm not sure logistically how I could set it up. So I felt like his method didn't apply to me.
    I believe tho if a person wants to die they have the right to. But as soon as they say something to anyone about immediate thoughts it means they're conflicted about it and want help.

    I was posting things on my more private blog before during and after, but I didn't explicitly say what was going on because I didn't want anyone to interfere.

    I'm leaving typos as is. More upset I am the less able I am to talk or write well.

    9-2-09 2:07 pm
    "having realyl bad cycling panic attacks
    klonopin not helping

    im really freaking out a ton over this
    (edited a link out here it was a link to my facebook status that I late deleted saying that the hospital sent me someone elses records.)

    the idea that theyre careless with the super personal info is just too much to handle "

    3:36 pm
    "I've cried so much the obnoxious amount of eyeshadow i started out with on this morning is totally gone

    taking a 2nd klonopin in 1 day
    only done that like 2 times ever bfore"

    Those were before. This next one I'm, not sure if it was before or during the time when I was taking the stuff. It's hard to tell because I was being intentionally vague about what was going on.

    5:40 pm
    "this has escalted extrordinarially uickyl
    i dunno what the fuck is going on
    how can i et help if i cant trust them"

    This next one was definitely after taking stuff
    6:31 pm
    " feel so nausiated
    i dunno what im doing"

    Here's after
    7:49 pm
    "I'm such a fuckng idiot
    i took a much of motrin
    put a whole package of nicotine ptch on me
    then i slept for awhile
    then was like fuck i dun wanna go to the hospital and this isnt wnough to kill me
    took off the pathed
    make myself vomit up the motrin
    i didnt get it al but got out as much as i could
    still feel crazy nausiated
    when i as vomiting some blod came up
    not a ton
    but stil lworry some
    not like i vomit regurally
    hadt dne it in years
    much be the motirn
    dizzily walked ot store ot by moutwatch and salt ot rinse
    i feel like shit
    took off my clothing
    dot have a fever
    im realyl bloated dunno why
    fuck im an idiot

    all over this cofidentiality shit"
    At the end of that entry I posted a photo that I can send you a link to privately if you like. It was a sort of warped suicide note/record for myself of what happened.

    I didn't explain that I was going to do any kind of plan until after I'd done it, didn't want anyone to interfere.
    After I'd decided I wasn't going through with it it was okay to share.

    There was this kid at this camp I worked at who when he got upset would say he wanted to die. I took it super seriously. I don't ignore that kind of thing.

    Yes you can use the post.

  10. Hi Lee,
    Thanks for all that it will be a great help. Yes please send the link to me.

    I have a few questions now and may have a few more later on as well as have to go to work soon.

    You wrote this on a blog as it was happening?
    If so did anyone respond?
    The drugs motrin and klonopin are not marketted under those names here. Can you tell me what sort of drugs they are?

    Thanks again Lee and I will ask more later. At some points its just a bit too cryptic and I will have to ask for some clarity

    Go Grrrlll


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