HomeoldThe "Papageno" and "Werther" effects offer insights into the prevention of suicide

The “Papageno” and “Werther” effects offer insights into the prevention of suicide

Published on

Dr. Saunders, a former general surgeon, currently serves as the CEO of Christian Medical Fellowship, a UK-based organization boasting 4,500 doctors and 1,000 medical students among its members.

Recently, Papageno discussed the new German film ‘Goethe’ in a blog post. The film is an absolute delight! It explores the early life of the renowned German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and retells his quasi-autobiographical love story, ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’, which brought him fame. In the story, Werther tragically takes his own life after his beloved marries another man. When the book was first published in 1774, it had a profound impact on young people, sparking a series of suicides. This led to the coining of the term “Werther Effect,” which refers to “copycat suicide” or “suicide contagion.”

The ‘Werther Effect’ is a focal point of the international guidelines on suicide portrayal in the media by the World Health Organization, titled ‘Preventing Suicide: A Resource for Media Professionals’.

These guidelines outline the kinds of media depictions of suicide that are likely to provoke imitative behavior, many of which have been found in the BBC’s coverage of assisted suicide.

Therefore, I was particularly intrigued to come across a recent paper by Austrian authors published in the British Medical Journal, as well as a more extensive one by the same group in the British Journal of Psychiatry, both released late last year. These papers examine media coverage of suicide.

In the first paper (BMJ), titled ‘Papageno vs. Werther Effect’, the authors observe that certain types of media coverage of suicide can actually result in a decrease rather than an increase in suicide rates.

‘Newspaper items accounting for (a decrease) 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. Our findings suggest that media reports on individual mastery of suicidal crises are highly relevant in preventing suicide.’

Media stories about how people cope with suicidal feelings actually help prevent suicide. This effect is called the Papageno effect, after a character in Mozart’s opera.

‘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.’

The second paper, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, aimed to test two hypotheses: that certain media content is associated with an increase in suicide, which could be described as a Werther effect, and that other content is associated with a decrease in suicide, which could be conceptualized as a Papageno effect.

It concludes that

‘The impact of suicide reporting may not be restricted to harmful effects; rather, coverage of positive coping in adverse circumstances, as covered in media items about suicidal ideation, may have protective effects.’

They acknowledge the need for further research to gain a deeper understanding of the Papageno effect. However, they suggest that even small protective effects could have a noticeable positive impact on internationally ongoing collaborations between health and media professionals from a public health perspective.

Two fictional characters, Werther and Papageno, both experience a loss of love. Werther kills himself, but Papageno finds new meaning in life. Werther’s actions have a negative effect, while Papageno’s have a positive effect.

Now, we need to persuade the media in Britain, especially the BBC, to apply these findings.


Daniel Miller is responsible for nearly all of National Right to Life News' political writing.

With the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency, Daniel Miller developed a deep obsession with U.S. politics that has never let go of the political scientist. Whether it's the election of Joe Biden, the midterm elections in Congress, the abortion rights debate in the Supreme Court or the mudslinging in the primaries - Daniel Miller is happy to stay up late for you.

Daniel was born and raised in New York. After living in China, working for a news agency and another stint at a major news network, he now lives in Arizona with his two daughters.

Order Now!


Latest articles

The EU’s plans for the abolition of the secrecy of digital letters

Surveillance of private chats without suspicion could soon become mandatory in the EU. This...

Lloyd’s: Government behind Nord Stream sabotage

About a month ago, Zug-based Nord Stream AG filed a lawsuit against its insurers....

More like this

Biden urges hostage deal

US President Biden has called on Qatar and Egypt to do everything possible to...

Trump trial: ex-president rushes from court to campaign trail

Update, 11:00 a.m.: In the U.S., experts are surprised that Judge Juan Merchan has...

Donald Trump Ignores Court Gag Order

Trump can't talk about those involved in the New York trial. The ex-president can,...