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Youth suicide - on screen and the real thing - on the rise

Actress Angelina Jolie in a scene from the film "Girl, Interrupted" for which she received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for an Academy Award in Beverly Hills, 15 February 2000.

SUZANNE TENNER/AFP PHOTO/Suzanne TENNER/COLUMBIA PICTURES

Graphic, violent portrayals of suicide in top-earning movies has jumped substantially from 1950 to 2006.

Despite the explicit nature of showing the portrayal of suicide on film, many of the movies that do this have received PG-13 ratings, according to a report from the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, published this month in the Archives of Suicide Research.

The authors say the number of youths who have committed suicide has risen along with the portrayal of suicide in movies. It's impossible to establish a clear link, but they say it means the issue requires more study to understand if viewing a suicide in a movie is more likely to encourage someone to do it themselves.

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Lead author Patrick Jamieson told the Associated Press there is something "seriously wrong" when a movie that contains highly graphic scenes depicting a suicide receives a PG-13 rating.

To conduct the report, researchers looked at top-grossing films from 1950 to 2006 and created a scale measuring the scale of violence and the explicit nature of suicides portrayed in them. They found 855 suicide references in films.

Virgin Suicides, released in 2000, deals almost entirely with the issue of suicide and shows several characters attempting to, or actually going through with the act.

Suicide is also in many other well-known films, such as Girl, Interrupted, The Shawshank Redemption, Boogie Nights and The Royal Tenenbaums.

Is this simply art imitating society? Or do you think the movie portrayals have impacted real life?

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About the Author

Carly Weeks has been a journalist with The Globe and Mail since 2007.  She has reported on everything from federal politics to the high levels of sodium in the Canadian diet. More

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