The Werther effect takes its name from the novel The Sorrows of the Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe , published in 1774. In the novel, the protagonist suffers for love to such an extent that he ends up taking his life. It was a very popular novel among the youth of the time, many of them even committed suicide in ways that seemed to mimic the protagonist. In fact, the authorities of Italy , Germany and Denmark came to prohibit the novel. The term was established by the sociologist David Phillips in 1974. Philips elaborated a study between 1947 and 1968 that showed that the number of suicides increased throughout the United States the month after the New York Times published on the cover some news related to a suicide .
It is also known as copycat effect , and is more likely to occur when the model is a famous person. A historical case is the suicide epidemic that followed the death of Marilyn Monroe in 1962. The same happened after the death of guitarist and singer of the Nirvana group Kurt Cobain . Another historical fact is that of the “Yukko Syndrome”, since in 1986 28 teenage girls committed suicide after Japanese singer Yukiko Okada ended her life. The syndrome especially affects young people. In Japan , for example, there is the related case of a high rate of young people committing suicide in the Aokigahara forest under Mount Fuji .
It is, after all, the imitative effect of suicidal behavior, on which there are various studies and investigations. As the media is the form of contagion, it has even been forced to suggest to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advice on how to publish facts related to suicides so they are not as potentially contagious. Among the recommendations are the omission of any personal elements that inspire compassion to the reader and any message that suggests that suicide is an effective way out of suicide problems. In 1987, after this review of the way the news was offered, suicide attempts dropped sharply.