Study Asks: Can a Hit Song Help Prevent Suicides?
In 2017, the song “1-800-273-8255,” by the hip-hop artist Logic, featured the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number and a hopeful story of survival. A new study finds that this song was associated with a noticeable increase in calls to Lifeline and a reduction in suicides.
An international group of researchers led by Thomas Niederkrotenthaler, Ph.D., M.M.Sc., with the Medical University of Vienna, in Austria, examined the song’s impact on calls to the Lifeline and on suicides. The researchers looked at daily Lifeline calls and U.S. suicide data before and after its release. They used the number of Twitter posts about the song to estimate the amount and duration of public attention the song received.
“1-800-273-8255" was released in 2017 and the song was in the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 for several weeks. The video has been viewed more than 400 million times on YouTube and as of the end of 2020, the song had more than one billion streams on Spotify. Daily tweets about the song reached three peaks corresponding to the three main events—the song’s release in April 2017, the MTV Video Music Awards in August 2017, and the Grammy Awards in January 2018.
The researchers identified a total of 34 days with the strongest public attention following the three events associated with the song. Overall, 56% of tweets about Logic’s song between March 2017 and April 2018 were posted in the 34-day high impact period covering these three media events. A statistically significant association was found for calls to Lifeline for the 34-day period covering the three main events. The strongest increase was seen immediately after the MTV Video Music Awards, consistent with the strongest social media attention.
During those 34 days, the Lifeline received an additional 9,915 calls over the expected number, an increase of 6.9%. Using a corresponding model for suicides, they found a reduction of 245 suicides, or 5.5%, below the expected number of suicides. These findings are important from a suicide prevention perspective, the authors note. “Our finding of a substantial increase in actual help-seeking and a possible decrease in suicides during the period of high public attention to Logic’s song support the real-world effectiveness of this intervention.”
The study also looked at patterns associated with suicides by celebrities during the same period. They found the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain were positively associated with an increase in Lifeline calls and increases (though not statistically significant) in suicides. In contrast, the authors write “the patterns observed for Logic’s song, consistent with the song’s narrative, indicated an increase in help-seeking behavior accompanied by a slight reduction in suicides.” They also note that a variety of pathways and mechanisms might be at play in any reduction in suicides associated with Logic’s song. This analysis suggests that Logic’s song “1-800-273-8255” was associated with a noticeable increase in calls to Lifeline and a simultaneous small reduction in suicides during peak social media discourse about the song. The research highlights the potential population health benefits of working creatively “to promote new impactful stories of help-seeking that resonate with broad audiences, leave a visible footprint on social media, and are safe in terms of not featuring potentially lethal actions but rather coping and mastery of crises,” the authors write. “Interventions that follow these principles could help create behavioral change to increase help-seeking and prevent suicide.”
- Niederkrotenthaler, T., et al. Association of Logic's hip hop song "1-800-273-8255" with Lifeline calls and suicides in the United States: interrupted time series analysis. BMJ, 2021 Dec 13;375:e067726. doi: 10.1136/bmj-2021-067726.