Newspaper reporting and the emergence of charcoal burning suicide in Taiwan: A mixed methods approach

Ying-Yeh Chen, Chi-Wei Tsai, Lucy A Biddle, Thomas Niederkrotenthaler, Kevin Chien Chang Wu, David Gunnell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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It has been suggested that extensive media reporting of charcoal burning suicide was a key factor in the rapid spread of this novel method in many East Asian countries. But very few empirical studies have explored the relationship between media reporting and the emergence of this new method of suicide.

We investigated the changing pattern of media reporting of charcoal burning suicides in Taiwan during 1998–2002 when this method of suicide increased most rapidly, assessing whether the characteristics of media reporting were associated with the changing incidence of suicide using this method.

A mixed method approach, combining quantitative and qualitative analysis of newspaper content during 1998–2002 was used. We compared differences in reporting characteristics before and after the rapid increase in charcoal burning suicide. Point-biserial and Pearson correlation coefficients were calculated to quantify the associations between the media item content and changes in suicide rates.

During the period when charcoal burning suicide increased rapidly, the number of reports per suicide was considerably higher than during the early stage (0.31 vs. 0.10). Detailed reporting of this new method was associated with a post-reporting increase in suicides using the method. Qualitative analysis of news items revealed that the content of reports of suicide by charcoal burning changed gradually; in the early stages of the epidemic (1999–2000) there was convergence in the terminology used to report charcoal burning deaths, later reports gave detailed descriptions of the setting in which the death occurred (2001) and finally the method was glamourized and widely publicized (2001–2002).

Our analysis was restricted to newspaper reports and did not include TV or the Internet.

Newspaper reporting was associated with the evolution and establishment of charcoal burning suicide. Working with media and close monitoring of changes in the incidence of suicide using a new method might help prevent a suicide epidemic such as charcoal burning suicide seen in Taiwan.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)355-361
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Early online date6 Jan 2016
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2016


  • charcoal burning suicide
  • media
  • mixed methods
  • acculturation
  • Taiwan

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