“I’ve been praying for somebody to save me, no one’s heroic … And my life don’t even matter, I know it, I know it … They say every life precious but nobody care about mine …”
When American hip hop artist Logic sang his hit song “1-800-273-8255” on MTV’s Video Music Awards in 2017, calls to that number, which belongs to the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, soared by 50% after the performance, according to the lifeline.
Now, a new study finds that in addition to nearly 10,000 more calls to the 1-800-273-8255 lifeline, there was also a 5.5% reduction in suicides among 10- to 19-year-olds during three time periods: the first 34 days after the song’s release, Logic’s performance at the 2017 MTV awards and an additional widely promoted performance at the 2018 Grammy Awards.
That equates to a reduction of 245 suicides below the expected number during those periods, according to the study published Monday in the BMJ.
“Celebrities but also noncelebrities can have an important role in suicide prevention if they communicate about how they have coped with crisis situations and suicidal ideation,” said study author Thomas Niederkrotenthaler, an associate professor in the department of social and preventive medicine at the Medical University of Vienna, Austria, in an email.
“To know that my music was actually affecting people’s lives, truly, that’s what inspired me to make the song,” Logic told CNN from his recording studio Monday.
“We did it from a really warm place in our hearts to try to help people. And the fact that it actually did, that blows my mind,” Logic said.
Using powerful, explicit language, “1-800-273-8255” chronicles a young man’s struggle with suicidal thoughts. Instead of taking his life, the young man calls the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The crisis worker who answers his call is portrayed by alternative R&B artist Alessia Cara.
“It’s holding on, though the road’s long, seeing light in the darkest things,” Cara sang. “And when you stare at your reflection, finally knowing who it is … I know that you’ll thank God you did.”
Logic (whose real name is Sir Robert Bryson Hall II) told CNN he experienced crippling anxiety and depression during a 2016 tour for his second album. He says he battled back by focusing on time with his wife and putting his priorities in order.
Fueled by one-on-one conversations with fans who told him that his words were meaningful to their well-being, he said he wrote the song months before a number of famous celebrities took their lives and the song became a symbol for hope.
“I’m not going to pretend to be somebody I’m not,” Logic told CNN, adding that he believes people “resonate with that. They’re like, ‘Oh, this guy is like me.’ And so I think openly discussing depression and anxiety and the darker side of life … you just talk about life, people appreciate that and can relate to it.
“I think honesty is everything, and I think people in general can kind of smell a phony, right?”
Sharing his prior history with depression, “certainly makes his message more authentic, and helps suicidal people identify with the lyrics more strongly,” psychiatrist Dr. Alexandra Pitman, an associate professor in the University College of London’s Division of Psychiatry, told CNN in an email. She was not involved in the study.
“The fact that he is also a very admired and famous person is also critical: this degree of influence also enhances the extent to which people feel drawn to him and his message,” said Pitman, who wrote an accompanying editorial to the study for the BMJ.
The dangers of reporting on suicide
There is a well-known phenomenon, called the Werther effect, in which a person dies by suicide after finding out about a friend or loved one’s suicide or seeing depictions of the original suicide on television or in other media.
This “copycat” syndrome gets its name from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s 1774 book “The Sorrows of Young Werther,” in which young Werther takes his life when he cannot have the woman he loves. A spate of suicides was said to follow in areas where the book was published, causing it to be banned in several European countries.
Recent studies by Niederkrotenthaler found reporting by the media about suicides by celebrities did impact suicides rates immediately after their deaths.
In one study, Niederkrotenthaler said, “we found that such reports were associated with an average 13% increase in suicides in the month after the reporting. The Werther effect can be “minimized by not reporting on a suicide method, not giving simplified reasons for suicide, and adding the Lifeline number to any report,” he added.
But research had not explored whether highly promoted celebrity messages about battling suicidal feelings successfully could have a positive effect, Niederkrotenthaler said.
“The present study shows for the first time that if help-seeking and recovery from severe crisis is prominently featured in the media, this can have a positive effect of increasing help-seeking and reducing suicide,” he said.
Although the study did have limitations — it could only show an association, not a direct cause and effect — it is a “really positive example of social modeling,” Pitman told CNN.
The study shows there is “great potential for the messages communicated by different artists and public figures to resonate with specific communities, for example those in certain ethnic groups, occupational groups, or sexual or gender minority groups,” PItman added.
“If they can find a way to reach those groups and improve their mental health through this kind of messaging, then this would be a great service to that population’s mental health,” she said.
“But only if they feel comfortable doing this. It would be wrong for such individuals to feel pressurized to expose themselves in this way,” Pitman said.
Logic agreed. “It’s got to be authentic. Whoever is spreading that message, it needs to be done from their heart,” he told CNN.
For him, that message would be simple: Look forward.
“Yes, it sucks. It’s dust right now, 100%. But it gets better. It gets so much better — I know it does because I’m talking from experience,” Logic added.
“You’re not where I am now, mentally, right? But you are where I was, and I want you to know you’re going to be so happy that you continued to thrive and that you continue to work on yourself.”
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