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Media Influence on Parasuicide: A Study of the Effects of a Television Drama Portrayal of Paracetamol Self-Poisoning

  • Sue Simkin (a1), Keith Hawton (a1), Linda Whitehead (a2), Joan Fagg (a1) and Matthew Eagle (a3)...

Abstract

Background

Paracetamol self-poisoning, which carries a significant risk of fatal liver damage, is increasing in the UK, especially among adolescents. There is concern that media portrayal of suicidal behaviour may influence its occurrence. We have investigated the effects of two broadcasts of a television drama showing a teenage girl's overdose of paracetamol.

Method

Data from the Oxford Monitoring System for Attempted Suicide were used to examine changes in the number of overdoses and the use of paracetamol in the three week period before and after both broadcasts. An analysis of log-linear models was carried out, using additional data from two previous years, in order to control for the effects of gender, age group, time period, season, year and drug. A questionnaire was used to ascertain whether the programme had influenced patients' decisions to take an overdose or their choice of drug.

Results

An increase in paracetamol overdoses occurred following the first broadcast, but when data from the two previous years were examined and the log-linear analysis was used there was no evidence of significant effects attributable to the broadcasts. The questionnaire study revealed that very few people had seen either episode, and only two claimed that it had influenced them (one in terms of getting help).

Conclusions

It is important to use sound methodology to avoid interpreting chance fluctuations as a media effect. The potential positive benefits of such programmes should also be investigated.

Copyright

Corresponding author

Dr K. Hawton, Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, Warneford Hospital, Oxford OX3 7JX

References

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Media Influence on Parasuicide: A Study of the Effects of a Television Drama Portrayal of Paracetamol Self-Poisoning

  • Sue Simkin (a1), Keith Hawton (a1), Linda Whitehead (a2), Joan Fagg (a1) and Matthew Eagle (a3)...
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