Intended for healthcare professionals


Media influence on suicide

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 01 March 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:498

Television programme makers have an ethical responsibility

  1. Andy Howe, specialist registrar in public health (,
  2. Vicci Owen-Smith, specialist registrar in public health,
  3. Judith Richardson, director of public health
  1. Department of Clinical Strategy, Greater Manchester Strategic Health Authority, Manchester M60 7LP
  2. South Manchester Primary Care Trust, Withington Hospital, West Didsbury M20 2LR
  3. CancerBACUP, London EC2A 3JR
  4. Cancer and Public Health Unit, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London WC1E 7HT
  5. Department of Psychiatry, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, New Territories, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China
  6. Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region

    EDITOR—We agree with Hawton and Williams that training courses for careers in the media offer the potential for improved portrayal of suicide in the media.1 The media, however, clearly can affect many facets of health related behaviour.

    We recently reported the effect of the death from cervical cancer of a character (Alma) in the television soap opera Coronation Street on the NHS cervical screening programme in the north west of England. 2 3 Our studies showed an excess of 14 000 cervical smear tests performed as a result of the storyline (a 21% increase on the previous year), although only 2000 of them were in women whose test was overdue or who had had no previous smear test. The remaining 12 000 smear tests were performed on women attending for an early, unscheduled test or who were due a smear test anyway and brought their appointment forward.

    The large increase in the number of smear tests led to a strain on local laboratories, with the time taken to report results increasing to beyond acceptable quality assurance limits—a factor likely to provoke excess anxiety in women. We also found that many women were prompted to attend for a cervical …

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