Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Medicine and the Media

Misreporting of suicide after the L’Aquila earthquake

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 17 May 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f3179
  1. Paolo Stratta, doctor12,
  2. Alessandro Rossi, doctor3
  1. 1Department of Mental Health, ASL 1, Via Bellisari, 67100 L’Aquila, Italy
  2. 2PhD Programme, Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, University of Pisa, Italy
  3. 3Department of Applied Clinical Sciences and Biotechnology, University of L’Aquila, Italy
  1. Corresponding author: Paolo Stratta psystr{at}

Some Italian media outlets incorrectly reported a rise in suicide after the catastrophic events of 2009—before data were even available. Paolo Stratta and Alessandro Rossi suggest ways that the media might report such issues more responsibly

Until recently the suicide rate in the L’Aquila province of the Abruzzo region was greater than the Italian mean, but this changed abruptly in the aftermath of a natural catastrophe, the earthquake on 6 April 2009. We reported a substantial reduction in suicide rate compared with previous years,1 confirmed by data for 2010 published by the Italian Institute of Statistics (ISTAT).2 A drop in suicidal behaviour after such catastrophic events has been observed previously and has been referred to as the “honeymoon” phase.3

Surprisingly, however, we found that the news media reported the opposite a few months after the earthquake, and on its anniversary. The regional website AbExpress published a story titled “Increase of suicide number,” and …

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