Until two weeks ago I had never heard of Caroline Flack. I don't watch 'Love Island' or read any celebrity news. She took her own life on February 15, and since then there has been relentless daily coverage.
o now, even without wanting to, I know about her love life, her mental health problems, her family, her childhood, and her court appearance - which are nobody's business except hers, her family's and her boyfriend's.
The tabloids and gossip magazines, and even worse, social media, have erupted with mouth-frothing analysis and commentary on the cause of her suicide. There have been criticisms of how she was treated by the UK Crown Prosecution Service for an alleged assault.
Her vulnerable personality has been mentioned and her family have released Instagram posts composed by her but left unposted before her tragic death. Her life and death are now an open book for all to cogitate over.
Some comments have been vitriolic, some lionising and all have been extremely disconcerting.
There have been calls for a law in her name to ban trolling on social media. The complexity of achieving this has been lost in the torrent of emotion but it did not stop almost three-quarters of a million people signing the petition.
The irony is that the social media and gossip magazines that promoted her celebrity status are now being condemned for their role in bringing about her death.
There is a further problem that those who are writing about Flack appear to have forgotten - that the frenetic focus on the suicide of a high-profile individual may itself trigger other suicides.
The history of this dates back to German literature and to a character called Werther. A classic by Goethe, called 'The Sorrows of Young Werther', captured the idea of suicide contagion.
Werther shot himself with a pistol after his love for a girl was met with rejection. After the publication of the book in 1774 many young men imitated this behaviour and it was banned for a time. The terms 'copy-cat suicide' and the 'Werther Effect' emanated from this novel.
Far from being fanciful or outdated, the Werther Effect is now supported by a large body of research.
A simple case study carried out by Paul Yip, a suicidologist, considered the impact of the death of a famous pop star in April 2003 on the suicide rate in Taiwan.
There was extensive media coverage of the death and the president attended the funeral. The upshot was a significant increase in deaths by the same method in the immediate aftermath.
Both the number and the use of the particular method were in excess of what would have been expected compared to a previous time period. It was particularly marked in a subgroup of people of similar age and sex.
Further data-based studies of the contagion effect show that there may be clusters of suicide in schools or in the same locality after a high-profile suicide. The presence of protective factors such as close ties to family and being in employment reduce the risk.
It is likely that Caroline Flack, a celebrity, will have been a role model to millions of young women seeking fame. Amazingly, a survey of high school teens in the US found that 54pc wanted to be famous, with 1pc wanting office work and 4pc hoping to become teachers. In another study, over half of those aged 18 to 25 surveyed believed they would one day be famous.
Suicide is a legitimate issue for public discussion but there should also be moderation. We have to blend freedom of speech with a healthy discussion around the problem and its prevention.
Evidence has emerged that for individuals in crisis, the manner of reporting may have an influence.
The more information about the victim that is made public the more likely are individuals to identify the resemblance between their plight and that of the suicide victim.
Adulation of the person who has died may stimulate suicidal thoughts and fantasies of realising their fame in those lacking self-worth and seeking admiration.
Guidelines on reporting have been drawn up for the media and these have two objectives: one is to avoid idealising suicide or the victim, as positive or courageous; the other is focused on minimising the distress of the family in the manner of reporting.
The media guidelines point out that mentioning suicide in the headline, providing step-by-step details of the manner of death, and the content of the suicide note may increase the risk. The presence of a photograph and assigning a single cause for the death may also contribute.
Editors are clearly enthused by stories that sell their papers and magazines. But there are ongoing worries that the style and volume of coverage of Caroline Flack's death are paving the way for a spike in deaths by suicide. This places a huge responsibility on editors and on the readership.
- If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article please contact Samaritans helpline 116 123 or Aware helpline 1800 80 48 48 or Pieta House on 1800 247 247.
Patricia Casey is a consultant psychiatrist in the Mater Hospital Dublin and Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at UCD