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Can the death of an icon impact our health?

Ami Banerjee
Last edited 28th June 2009
He has only been dead for 48 hours but this story is going to dominate the headlines for weeks. Like millions of music fans and aspiring moon-walkers across the world, I found the news of Michael Jackson’s unexpectedly sudden death a terrible shock. In terms of impact on popular culture, it has already been compared with the death of John F Kennedy and Princess Diana, but two aspects set this celebrity death apart. Firstly, even more than for Princess Diana’s death in 1997, the omnipresence of the media is staggering from the quick posting of the news on a celebrity website and the coverage of the body bag being carried across Los Angeles to the 911 emergency phone call. Patient confidentiality and dignity do not apply to celebrities. Secondly, never has the layperson been so involved in the propagation of the news in a mass outpouring of grief for the King of Pop. “Jackson death was twittered, texted and Facebooked”, reported Yahoo [1], and all of these forms of media reported record levels of activity. It turns out that there is a literature regarding the effects of celebrity death on suicide rates and hospital admissions. A study in the British Journal of Psychiatry “found evidence of an increase in the number of suicides in England and Wales and of DSH (deliberate self harm) presentations to one general hospital following the death of the Princess of Wales” [2]. In the month following the Princess's funeral, the suicide rate rose by 17.4%, particularly in women (33.7%), and especially in the 25-44 age group (45.1%). The authors examined patient case notes and found that the effect was probably mediated “through amplification of personal losses or exacerbation of existing distress” [2]. Another tragedy, perhaps more comparable to Jackson’s death, was the suicide of “grunge rock” star, Kurt Cobain, in 1994. Analysis of data about suicides and attempted suicides from Seattle showed that there was no “copycat effect” on the suicide rate and this was attributed to community outreach in the local area and the establishment of a “crisis centre” [3]. The death of such an international icon may well have such negative effects on health in the next few weeks. A fellow blogger coined the term, “celebrity death test” in April this year, to describe how public health problems only gain recognition when celebrity figures of sufficient stature are affected [4]. He used the HIV/AIDS experience of the early 80’s to illustrate his case. Perhaps Michael Jackson will shine a light on the huge problem of addiction to prescription medication.
  1. Jackson death was twittered, texted and Facebooked. Yahoo. 26th June 2009. http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090626/ap_en_ce/us_michael_jackson_the_media_moment_2
  2. Effect of death of Diana, princess of Wales on suicide and deliberate self-harm. Br J Psychiatry 2000 Nov;177:463-6. Hawton K, Harriss L, Simkin S, Juszczak E, Appleby L, McDonnell R, Amos T, Kiernan K, Parrott H.
  3. The Kurt Cobain suicide crisis: perspectives from research, public health, and the news media. Suicide Life Threat Behav. 1996. 26(3):260-69. Jobes DA, Berman AL, O'Carroll PW, Eastgard S, Knickmeyer S.
  4. Paul Wilmott blog. Celebrity Death Test. April 26, 2009 http://www.wilmott.com/blogs/paul/index.cfm/2009/4/26/Celebrity-Death-Test

prescription addiction

There are a number of sites that give good info on prescription addiction
the following three classes are most commonly abused:

* Opioids—usually prescribed to treat pain.
* CNS Depressants—used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders.
* Stimulants—prescribed to treat ADHD and narcolepsy


Of the three I think we'll see the first to be the most likely

Cheers CH

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