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January 2022

The Kurt Cobain suicide crisis: perspectives from research, public health, and the news media

Author(s): Berman, A. L., O'Carroll, P. W., Eastgard, S., Knickmeyer, S.

Journal/Book: Suicide Life Threat Behav. 1996; 26: 260-69; discussion 269-71.

Abstract: The suicide of rock star Kurt Cobain in 1994 raised immediate concerns among suicidologists and the public at large about the potential for his death to spark copycat suicides, especially among vulnerable youth. The Seattle community, where Cobain lived and died, was especially affected by his sudden death. An overview of Cobain's life and death is presented and various crisis center and community-based interventions that occurred are discussed. Preliminary data collected from the Seattle Medical Examiner's Office and from the Seattle Crisis Center to assess the potential impact of Cobain's death on completed suicides and the incidence of suicide crisis calls are presented. The data obtained from the Seattle King County area suggest that the expected "Werther effect" apparently did not occur, but there was a significant increase in suicide crisis calls following his death. It is hypothesized that the lack of an apparent copycat effect in Seattle may be due to various aspects of the media coverage, the method used in Cobain's suicide, and the crisis center and community outreach interventions that occurred. The Cobain suicide and the role of media influence on copycat suicides are further discussed in commentaries from public health and news media perspectives.

Keyword(s): Adult. Community-Institutional Relations. Crisis Intervention/methods. Famous Persons. History of Medicine, 20th Cent.. Hotlines/statistics & numerical data. Human. Imitative Behavior. Interinstitutional Relations. Journalism, Medical/standards. Male. Mass Media/standards. Music/history. Public Health/methods. Suicide/history/prevention & control/statistics & numerical data. Time Factors. Washington

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