Code Book
Suicide Code Book

Suicide Code Book

Definition of Suicide

Suicidal behavior was defined as actions in which a character had the “option of living but attempted or completed the taking of his/her life.” Verbal references to suicidal behavior were not coded as suicidal behavior portrayal. A 5-point suicide explicitness behavior scale was used to measure explicit suicidal behavior portrayal. However, the variable Suicide_mean includes verbal references to suicide.

Suicide Explicitness

0 = suicide references only
i.e., characters comment about suicide in general or refer to suicides in the past

1 = no visuals of act: a body (living or dead) may be shown, or the act is entirely implied. Auditory implications of suicide without visuals
i.e., a body in a tub of bloody water but no visuals of cutting wrists, gun shot heard behind a door

2 = shows the intent but not the act
i.e., character prepares devices (pointing gun at self, getting razor, tying rope…) but no action of self-harm

3 = shows the act but the act is not completed; completion is unclear or unknown
i.e., character is modeling behavior of self-harm but does not die (cutting, etc.)

4 = shows the act through completion (death) with possible detail
i.e., character is seen or strongly implied to have been killed by self-injury (seen falling from a building but body may not be shown on the street, blood from wounds, or close-up of face or body)

Number of Attempts

Record the number of suicide attempts for that character that depict visual content of actual modeling. This includes any attempt at committing suicide even if the suicide is never completed (successful). Remember to only code completions for the highest degree of portrayal.
Example 1: a segment depicts a dead person on the ground as a result of suicide (just the aftermath) and then someone walks in, slits their wrists, and dies – only code as 1 completion because the second character ranks higher on the suicide scale than the first.
Example 2: two people kill themselves and are shown dead – code for 2 completions.

Number of Completions

Record the number of times suicide completion was portrayed with some sort of visual content. For example, feet are shown swaying or a hand lies next to a gun. The completion of a suicide results in death and the body must be seen.
Example: if a character goes into a room with a gun, closes the door, and then you hear a gun shot and the thud of a body, that is coded as Suicide 1 with no completion because you can’t be 100% sure they died. If later a character says that the person died as the result of a suicide, code that comment only as a reference. You don’t need to go back and recode the other segment. It is possible to code for a completion with no attempts and no time if only the body is shown and not the act.

Length of Act

Record the amount of time spent modeling the act of self-injury. Count the number of seconds in which a character is portrayed interacting with the suicidal agent to the degree of modeling that implies a viable suicide attempt. For example, only count the time spent by a character cutting their wrists, not how long they handled the razor prior to cutting; only count how long a gun is held up to the head not including how long the gun was in their possession. For jumping suicides, start counting when the character has left the ledge not including the time spent on the ledge. For hangings, only count the time portrayed in which the character’s weight is unsupported. For overdose/poison cases, start counting once the character has consumed any of the substance.

Approval of Suicide

Are characters shown disapproving of suicide (anger, sadness, regret), approving of suicide (happy, encouraging), or no judgment (indifferent). There are three codes:

0 = Disapproval

1 = No judgment

2 = Approval

Note any verbal / textual evidence that comments in any way about the death or attempt. Only note comments after the act. Ignore statements by the person committing the act. If those making comments are cast as mentally ill (e.g., those in the asylum who witness the ideation of Elizabeth Taylor in Suddenly Last Summer (1960), do not code the reaction at all. Only note comments by those who are positively/negatively portrayed. So for example in Quo Vadis (1952), when Nero approves of the suicide and Nero is portrayed as a deranged and evil person, do not code his response. Code the response of the Roman senator Seneca who is positively portrayed but not the response of Nero, who is cast as a villain. – from Jamieson (2003).


Code for both verbal and physical attempts to stop another character from completing a suicide. For someone slitting their wrists, this can count while holding the knife, while actually cutting, or while bleeding out. As long as a person stops or tries to stop someone from dying, code for it. Do not code if they come on the scene to try to stop someone and find the person dead.

0 = No

1 = Yes (intervenes), but doesn’t stop suicide attempt

2 = Yes (intervenes), and stops suicide

Comedic Suicide

The suicide takes on a comedic role (i.e., meant to get laughs), or is not a serious or realistic suicide attempt. A parody of a suicide would be considered a comedic suicide (e.g., Beetlejuice). These scenes may include laugh tracks.

Noble / Heroic Suicide

Does the character kill him/herself to save the life of another character? Does the character kill him/herself for some perceived higher means? (i.e. Kamikaze, Jihad)

Fantasy Suicide

Fantasy is defined as the degree to which the action is portrayed as being unrealistic. For example, suicides that take place in dreams or by (un)dead characters. Any suicide enacted by animated characters would be fantasy since their death is not possible. Another example: Nicholas Cage’s Angel character in City of Angels commits a fantasy suicide since he was not human when committing the act. Note that flashbacks to earlier suicide portrayals are not necessarily fantasy.