Fictional suicidal behavior can affect the public as a risk or a protective factor, and it may reflect how suicide is perceived in a society. However, surprisingly little is known of how suicidal behavior is portrayed in television series. The aim of this study was to investigate the characteristics of televised fatal and non-fatal suicidal behavior, preventative interventions, and the portrayal of people bereaved by suicide. All episodes (N = 475) of four Belgian police series were screened against inclusion and exclusion criteria, and 87 episodes with a total of 54 suicides, 13 attempted suicides, 13 suicide threats, and 20 characters bereaved by suicide were included in a quantitative and qualitative analysis. Televised suicidal behavior was primarily motivated by external motives, such as social/relational issues or the death of a significant other, and to a lesser extent, by internal motives, such as mental or physical health related issues. Interventions were likely to prevent suicide. People bereaved by suicide were mostly portrayed as individuals seeking justice. Shame, revenge, and escape were the major qualitative themes associated with suicidal behavior. Two prototypes emerged: a ruthless, “psychopath” type criminal, who kills him/herself before being arrested, and a suicidal individual struggling with devastating life events. The study provided unique insights in how suicidal behavior is televised in Belgian police series. Though some characteristics were portrayed adequately, mental health related issues were overlooked, spectacular suicide methods were overrepresented, and the bereaved characters were mostly unidimensional revengers. Strategies for improving the accuracy of televised suicidal behavior should be studied.
- attempted suicide
- mass media