Suicide Clusters

Suicide Clusters

Suicide Contagion or Clusters

A suicide cluster is a group of completed suicides or suicide attempts that occur close together in time
and geographical area. It is not necessary for the decedents in a suicide cluster to have had direct
contact with each other. Sometimes knowledge of the first suicide was gained through media exposure.

Suicide clusters appear to occur most frequently in teenagers and young adults.

Suicide contagion is the tendency of one or more person’s suicidal behavior to influence another person to attempt or complete suicide. Suicide clusters are thought to occur through a process of contagion.

CDC Recommendations for a community plan for the prevention and containment of suicide clusters.

  • A community should review these recommendations and develop its own response plan BEFORE the onset of a suicide cluster.
  • The response to the crisis should involve all concerned sectors of the community and should be coordinated by a coordinating committee, which manages the day-to-day response to the crisis and a host agency, whose responsibilities would include “housing” the plan, monitoring the incidence of suicide, and calling meetings of the coordinating committee when necessary.
  • The relevant community resources should be identified.
  • The response plan should be implemented under either of the following two conditions
    –When a suicide cluster occurs on the community.
    –When one or more deaths from trauma occur in the community, especially among adolescents or young adults, which may potentially influence others to attempt or complete suicide,
  • If the response plan is to be implemented, the first step should be to contact and prepare those groups who will play key roles in the first day of the response.
  • The response should be conducted in a manner that avoids glorification of the suicide victims and minimizes sensationalism.
  • Persons who may be at high risk of suicide should be identified and have at least one screening interview with a trained counselor; these persons should be referred for further counseling or other services as needed.
  • A timely flow of accurate, appropriate information should be provided to the media.
  • Elements in the environment that might increase the likelihood of further suicides or suicide attempts should be identified and changed.
  • Long-term issues suggested by the cluster should be addressed.

*Original Source: CDC’s “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report” MMWR, 1988;37 (suppl S-6): 1-12.

Download a copy of the complete MMWR article.

1. The summary of the CDC article on this page is from SIEC Alert #36, July 1999: “The Challenge of Suicide Clusters.” SIEC, the Suicide Information & Education Collection, publishes quarterly SIEC Alerts on suicide prevention. SIEC is a part of Canada’s Centre for Suicide Prevention Centre for Suicide Prevention, an excellent, comprehensive resource in the field of suicide prevention.