Korea has the highest suicide rate among the OECD countries. According to estimates by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, 15,000 people kill themselves every year, and about 100,000 are admitted to emergency rooms following a suicide attempt.
But the number of suicides increases 30 percent over the two months after a celebrity commits suicide, according to a study.
Ha Kyoo-seob of the Korean Association for Suicide Prevention on Tuesday said analysis of suicide data for a period after 2005 released by Statistics Korea shows that an average of 2,632 people killed themselves in the two months after five celebrities took their own lives over the period. That is an increase of 607 suicides, or 30 percent, from the average of 2,025 at normal times.
In the two months after actress Lee Eun-ju committed suicide in February 2005, some 495 killed themselves; after singer U;Nee took her own life in January 2007, there were 513 suicides; and after actress Jeong Da-bin killed herself in February 2007, the number rose to 323.
The number increased to 694 people after the suicide of actor Ahn Jae-hwan in September 2008 and a staggering 1,008 after actress Choi Jin-sil’s in October the same year.
That the increase is often due to copycat suicides is also evidenced by the number of people who kill themselves in the same way as the celebrity. In the two months before Choi hanged herself in 2008, 437 and 477 did the same, accounting for about 40 percent of all suicides. But the figures jumped to 1,197 people or 66.2 percent in October, the month Choi killed herself, and 772 or 61.5 percent the following month.
"The biggest problem is that people read and learn from news coverage of why and how celebrities took their own lives," said Hong Jin-pyo at Asan Medical Center in Seoul. "Many patients with depression have access to detailed information on how to commit suicide, further increasing the rate of suicide attempts or suicides."