We are all aware of the power of mass media to influence taste and opinions, even expose truths, but it can also save lives. A remarkable example of this is U.S. rapper Logic’s hip hop song “1-800-273-8255” which has, nearly four years after its release, been found to have potentially prevented hundreds of suicides.
Released in April 2017, Logic’s song prominently features the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Line, “1-800-273-8255”. The song’s lyrics tell the story of someone calling the 1-800 number for Lifeline and then telling the counsellor that they don’t want to live anymore. The music video, released a few months later, which has been viewed more than 430 million times on YouTube, captures a young gay man struggling with bullying and suicidal feelings before calling for help.
The study itself
A study published in the British Medical Journal has quantified the potential impact of Logic’s 2017 hit song. A team of researchers, led by Thomas Niederkrotenthaler, assessed changes in daily call volumes to the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and in suicides during periods of wide scale public attention to the song “1-800-273-8255”.
Using time series analysis, researchers analysed the number of calls that took place in the time surrounding three events that drew wide-scale public attention to the song: the song’s release on 28 April 2017, Logic’s performance at the MTV Video Music Awards on 27 August 2017, and a later performance at the Grammy Awards on 28 January 2018.
Wide scale public attention to the song “1-800-273-8255” by American hip hop artist @Logic301 was associated with an increase in calls to the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline & a reduction in suicides, finds a study in the Christmas issue https://t.co/Jkb7lVJeEW
— The BMJ (@bmj_latest) December 14, 2021
The study found tens of thousands of people talking about the song on social media and just under 10,000 extra calls to the lifeline in spike periods after the song’s release and the big performances. Overall, the events were associated with a call volume increase of 6.9% to Lifeline during the 34-day period when public attention to the song was substantial. Over the same period there was evidence of a reduction in suicides amounting to 245 fewer suicides, a decrease of 5.5%.
In an interview with Genius, Logic discusses his inspiration behind the song. “In my mind I was like: “Man, I wasn’t even trying to save nobody’s life,” he told Genius. “And then it hit me, the power that I have as an artist with a voice. I wasn’t even trying to save your life. Now what could happen if I actually did?”
Can one rapper really save lives?
Many will be familiar with the Werther effect or “copycat suicide”, named after a tragic literary figure, a psychological phenomenon whereby a highly publicised suicide triggers other suicides, often carried out in similar ways.
As the study states, “a major dilemma for research in this area has been that stories of hope and recovery receive much less media coverage than stories of suicide death.” Contrary to the Werther effect, the Papageno effect, named after the lovelorn character from Mozart’s Magic Flute, explains “the possible possible protective effects of stories of hope and recovery from suicidal crises.” Much less research has been carried out to investigate the Papageno effect.
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The results of this research demonstrate the power of positive mass-mediated messages in lowering suicide rates. The researches advocate that “suicide prevention and education efforts must harness positive media to educate the general public and high risk groups about suicide prevention without doing harm to individuals at risk.” Media experts are being advised by health experts on how to cover suicide-related news and how to balance news of deaths with stories of prevention and recovery.
These findings, as well as this particular story are hugely important as tools for working to prevent suicides. They emphasise the significant benefits of working creatively and innovatively outside (as well as inside) the health sector, such as the music and entertainment industries, to promote impactful stories, like the one told in Logic’s song. These industries have the power “to reach broad audiences and leave a visible footprint on social media”.
Logic’s song has not only potentially saved hundreds of lives but has also drawn attention to the influence of hopeful narratives on those experiencing suicidal thoughts. The researched implications of one rapper’s song may be able to change the way the media talks about suicide and save many more lives in the future.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com. — In the Featured Photo: Logic on the “Bobby Tarantino vs Everybody” Tour. Taken on July 5, 2018 at Budweiser Stage. Featured Photo Credit: Anton Mak