Intended for healthcare professionals

Letters Media and suicide

Papageno v Werther effect

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 19 October 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c5841
  1. Thomas Niederkrotenthaler, assistant professor1,
  2. Martin Voracek, associate professor2,
  3. Arno Herberth, postgraduate researcher1,
  4. Benedikt Till, postdoctoral researcher1,
  5. Markus Strauss, research assistant1,
  6. Elmar Etzersdorfer, associate professor1,
  7. Brigitte Eisenwort, associate professor1,
  8. Gernot Sonneck, full professor1
  1. 1Department of Medical Psychology, Centre for Public Health, Medical University of Vienna, A-1090 Vienna, Austria
  2. 2Department of Basic Psychological Research, School of Psychology, University of Vienna, A-1010 Vienna, Austria
  1. thomas.niederkrotenthaler{at}

Sensationalist media reports, as in Hong Kong’s print media,1 can trigger further suicides—the Werther effect.2 However, we recently found that the effects of suicide related news stories was broad and sometimes protective, depending on the contents of the story.3 In particular, reports about people adopting constructive coping strategies in adverse circumstances were associated with decreasing suicide rates subsequently.3

Newspaper items accounting for this effect form a distinct non-sensationalist class of suicide reporting. They follow the recommendations of the World Health Organization in reporting suicide—for example, avoiding terms such as suicide epidemic.3 4 Our findings suggest that media reports on individual mastery of suicidal crises are highly relevant in preventing suicide.

This protective effect has been termed the Papageno effect in honour of the character in Mozart’s opera the Magic Flute. When Papageno fears that he has lost his love, Papagena, he prepares to kill himself. But three boys save him at the last minute by reminding him of other alternatives to dying.5

More research is needed to understand the Papageno effect. However, from a public health perspective, even small protective effects could have a noticeable positive impact on internationally ongoing collaborations between health and media professionals.


Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c5841


  • Competing interests: None declared.


Log in

Log in through your institution


* For online subscription