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Did a song by the rapper Logic lead to fewer suicides?

Photo: Logic
Photo: Logic

When rapper Logic's song "1-800-273-8255" — the digits for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — came out, the hotline started getting more calls.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST: In 2017, the rapper Logic named a song after a phone number. (SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "1-800-273-8255") LOGIC: (Singing) I've been on the low. I've been taking my time. I feel like I'm out of my mind. I feel like my life ain't mine. Who can relate? SHAPIRO: That number was 1-800-273-8255, the digits for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The song's narrator is talking to an operator on the hotline. The song hit No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. NPR Music's Stephen Thompson remembers it vividly. STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: This song came out with this very blunt, very earnest message about suicide, and particularly preventing suicide - not just giving voice to suicidal ideation but providing something of a call to action around suicide. JOHN DRAPER: The day of its release, we heard the song and saw the lyrics, and we thought this is amazing. SHAPIRO: That's John Draper, executive director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. After the song came out, he noticed more calls to the hotline. Researchers who study suicide and mental health also took notice, and Draper helped them analyze the call data for a study just published in the British Medical Journal. DRAPER: Overall, we saw about a 26 to 27% increase in calls that year. Those surges were featured as, you know, being contributors. But the overall water level, so to speak, the overall volume, had risen, and largely due, we believe, to the song. SHAPIRO: Surges in calls came after the song's release, and also after Logic performed at the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards and the 2018 Grammy Awards. This is an example of what's called the Papageno effect, when a piece of media changes a person's decision to die by suicide. The song's title functions as a PSA, and NPR's Stephen Thompson thinks it's an effective one. THOMPSON: There's a difference between depicting suicide and depicting suicide prevention. It's not necessarily marinating in the mechanics of suicide so much as it is providing a thought process leading out of suicide. (SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "1-800-273-8255") LOGIC: (Singing) I finally want to be alive. I finally want to be alive. I don't want to die today. THOMPSON: And then the call to action in the song is right there in its title. SHAPIRO: That number, once again, is 1-800-273-8255. And if Logic releases a follow up to the song, it might have a much shorter title. Next July, the hotline changes to just 988. (SOUNDBITE OF LOGIC SONG, "1-800-273-8255") Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website  terms of use and  permissions pages at  www.npr.org for further information.

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