Authors of a report from the Annenberg Public Policy Center have shown a correlation between the dramatic rise in the portrayal of graphic suicides on film and the increase in the youth suicide rate.
Their study looked at 855 films produced between 1950 to 2006 and found that the number of explicit representations of suicide had tripled over the period. That increase paralleled the tripling of suicide by young people aged 15 to 24 in the U.S. from 1960 to 1990.
“While we cannot establish a causal connection here, it is interesting to note that the tripling of U.S. teen suicide since 1960 coincided with this increase in movie suicide portrayal,” Patrick E. Jamieson, the lead author, said in a press release.
The report also found that portrayals of suicide have become significantly more violent onscreen. The authors blamed the introduction of the PG-13 rating in 1984 for encouraging more graphic scenes. “There is something seriously wrong with a movie ratings system that attaches a PG-13 rating to a movie containing explicit, graphic modeling of suicide,” Jamieson wrote.
To measure the rate of suicide portrayals, the researchers watched all 855 films and classified suicidal behaviour as a situation in which the character had the “option of living but attempted or completed the taking of his/her life.”