The Bridgend suicides were an apparent epidemic or unusually high number of suicides in Bridgend County Borough in Wales in the United Kingdom. Between January 2007 and February 2009, there were 25 suicides of people aged from 15 to 28, 24 of which were by hanging. After that, the suicides were less frequent, with 28 by the end of February 2010.
These events attracted a high degree of media interest and a wide variety of theories, some more lurid than others: it was suggested an "internet death cult" or "cyber-suicide ring" were responsible. The incidents have been the subject of various documentaries and a 2015 Danish feature film directed by Jeppe Rønde. It is now generally believed that nothing particularly strange was going on in Bridgend, with police investigations failing to justify the more lurid claims.
Bridgend County Borough is an administrative area of Wales with a total population of 139,200, lying on the south coast, west of of Cardiff, and containing the towns of Bridgend, Maesteg, and Porthcawl.
In 2008 the media became interested in an apparent epidemic of suicides in South Wales. At the end of January 2008 there was a spate of news reports linking the deaths to a then-popular social network, with headlines like "Bridgend deaths: Police warn of Social networking websites#Bebo 'internet suicide cult'" and "'Bebo suicides': I stopped another death". However, the reports were short on detail and failed to explain how Bebo was actually responsible.
The Daily Telegraph in February 2008 reported in depth from the town, saying "Seventeen people aged between 15 and 27 have died in little over a year, all but one by hanging." American magazine Vanity Fair visited in 2009, reporting a total of 25 suicides. By 2012 The People was claiming 79 suicides in the area from January 2009 to February 2012, "most of them between 15 and 30".
However, these figures depended on a flexible geographical area, confusing Bridgend the town with the wider region. There was also variation between a focus on the deaths of young people, with various age ranges used, and sometimes adding older people too, which allowed newspapers to inflate the numbers, as with The People's report. This makes it difficult to compare the rates with the expected or average.
Internet suicide cult
There have been various outbreaks of media panic about the internet encouraging people to commit suicide. This includes suicide pacts, where two or more people communicating online agree to commit suicide, and sites that more generally encourage suicide or offer advice on ways to do it. Many of the Bridgend victims used the once-popular social network Bebo, and after their deaths, memorial pages were created on the site. As a consequence the website was blamed. In one variation, the prospect of getting a sincere online tribute after their death, and more followers or friends than when they were living, caused the young people to kill themselves.
The area has a reputation as not a very exciting place to grow up, suffering from the decline of heavy industry and coal mining that were the principal industries of South Wales. Fashion magazine Vanity Fair characterised "the boredom, demoralization, and anhedonia of being inextricably stuck in some backwater place". This has been related to concerns about the mental health of British children and teenagers nationally.
The idea that Bridgend was so depressing it drove its residents to suicide was questioned by journalist Carole Cadwalladr who grew up in South Wales: she called it "the kind of town you find up and down the country: not poor, not rich, just average, encircled by the same out-of-town shopping centres with the same chain stores and garages and industrial estates you find everywhere else".
Loren Coleman, a writer on suicide, suggested that copycat suicides played an important role. Carole Cadwalladr suggested that the well-attested link between media attention and suicide could have been involved.
However, coroner Philip Walters said that he was aware of a higher-than-average rate by the summer of 2007, before the national and international press took any notice: he had seen 14 or 15 in a period where the previous year there were only 2. Walters said: "There doesn't seem to be any particular reason. I'm given to understand that it's something that happens. In Belfast it happened. Somebody from the police went there to find out more. And Scotland had a cluster. I'm convinced it will go away again."
Authorities believed there was no connection between the suicides, and there was nothing extraordinary going on. The coroner Philip Walters supported this theory, suggesting there was no common link: alcohol in some, drugs in some, but nothing out of the ordinary, and hanging had been the most common method in the area for years before.
Jeppe Rønde's 2015 film Bridgend was attacked by the media as "gob-smackingly crass and insensitive", and not even attempting to explain the spate of suicides, merely shrouding everything in pretentious and moody imagery.
Photographer Dan Wood from Bridgend produced a series of images, entitled Suicide Machine, exhibited in 2016.
- The Mystery Suicides of Bridgend County, Alex Shoumatoff, Vanity Fair, Feb 2009
- "He was the music in my life": Son swore he wouldn’t be another Bridgend suicide then he took his life, The Mirror, 29 Mar 2013
- How Bridgend was damned by distortion, Carole Cadwalladr, The Guardian, 1 Mar 2009
- Bridgend (2015), IMDb
- See the Wikipedia article on Bridgend County Borough.
- Bridgend deaths: Police warn of Bebo 'internet suicide cult', The Independent, 27 Jan 2008
- ‘Bebo suicides’: I stopped another death, Metro, 25 Jan 2008
- Bridgend suicides: a town tainted by death, Gordon Rayner and Richard Savill, The Telegraph, 23 Feb 2008
- A Tragedy in Wales: A Small Town Mystery, Anne Driscoll and Alex Tresniowski, The People, May 14, 2012
- The Truth about the Bridgend Suicides, Elizabeth Sulis Gear, FeatureShoot, 16 Sep 2016
- Bridgend suicides movie trailer verdict: Two minutes that's utterly reprehensible, Nathan Bevan, Wales Online, 4 Apr 2015