The new advert from Hyundai features a depressed man attempting to commit suicide using the exhaust fumes from his car. The advert is on YouTube here, watch at your discretion. There is clear evidence that this kind of content increases the use of specific suicide methods, as I wrote in 2009:
… it has been shown repeatedly that suicide increases in the month after a front page suicide story. There is also evidence that the effect is bigger for famous people and gruesome attempts. You may want to remember that fact for later.
Details matter, as ever. Overdoses increased by 17% in the week after a prominent overdose on Casualty (watched by 22% of the population at the time), and paracetamol overdoses went up by more than others. In 1998 the Hong Kong media reported heavily on a case of carbon monoxide poisoning by a very specific method, using a charcoal burner. In the 10 months preceeding the reports, there had been no such suicides. In November there were 3; then in December there were 10; and over the next year there were 40. You may want to remember that story for later.
And it’s not pie in the sky to suggest that the media should be careful in how they discuss suicide. After the introduction of media reporting guidelines in Austria, for example, there was a significant decrease in the number of people throwing themselves under trains.
So organisations like the Samaritans take this seriously. They suggest that journalists avoid crass phrases like “a ‘successful’ suicide attempt”. They suggest that journalists avoid explicit or technical details of suicide methods, for reasons you can now understand. They suggest that journalists include details of further sources for help and advice, since an article about suicide represents a great opportunity to target people who are at risk with useful information. And they recommend avoiding simplistic explanations for suicide.
There is an open letter to Hyundai here, from someone who’s father killed himself using the method depicted above.
This Hyundai advert is almost unbelievably misguided. I’m also a bit disappointed to see that The Guardian list it today as one of their “best adverts” of the week (their text has now been silently modified, see below, and comments on their piece). No responsible broadcaster should give it airtime, and I hope nobody at Hyundai will be childish enough to regard the attention given to them in this blog post as some kind of victory for their irresponsible, exploitative, attention-seeking and dangerous behaviour.
If you need them, here are the Samaritans’ excellent media guidelines for anyone covering suicide in the public eye.
Some have tweeted to say it’s not praised as one of the best adverts by the Guardian. Detail, but: in the last fifteen minutes the Guardian page has been silently edited to remove the praise of “best adverts”. It’s still listed as that on the Guardian’s video version here, more critical coverage of this in New Statesman here.
[[** Since Posterous.com has died, badscience.net is about to get a redesign: I’ll copy over the posterous content, and make a section on this mothership for smaller blog posts. I’m also about to come out of hibernation. Until the hair-do, I’ll post smaller stuff in here.**]]