Recent Spate of Celebrity Suicides Is an Alarming Sign

  • By Han Hyun-woo from the Chosun Ilbo's News Desk

    November 27, 2019 13:52

    Korea has the unenviable distinction of having the highest suicide rate in the OECD. The only reason why Korea fell to second place two years ago was because Lithuania, which has an even higher rate, joined the OECD, but last year Korea still took the top rank again. The number of suicides in Korea stands at 26.6 out of every 100,000 people, which is more than twice the OECD average of 11.5. Last year alone, 13,670 people killed themselves here, or 37.5 every day and one every 38 minutes.

    There are fewer than 10 countries with a higher suicide rate than Korea. The Ministry of Health and Welfare believes the rate of suicide in Korea increased around 10 percent last year due to copy-cat suicides. Several celebrities have taken their own lives since late 2017, which apparently led to a surge in imitations. Former Yonsei University professor and writer Ma Kwang-soo killed himself in September 2017, followed by K-pop idol Jong-hyun, actor Jo Min-ki and politician Roh Hoe-chan.

    Last month, the actress and former K-pop star Sulli took her own life, and her friend and fellow K-pop idol Gu Ha-ra followed suit this last Sunday. Sulli was 25 and Gu was 28. They were both at the top of the pop world and had their whole lives before them, but both suffered from relentless cyberbullying and did not leave behind a detailed suicide note, leaving a big question mark over why they decided to end their own lives. They both posted photos and messages on social media until just before their suicides. 

    The tragic choices made by famous people have a huge impact on the public. People were shocked when actress Choi Jin-sil committed suicide, followed by her own brother. But those two suicides happened two years apart, while Gu took her own life just over a month after Sulli. The Werther effect, where people are swayed by reports of celebrity suicide, is real. When Hong Kong actor Leslie Cheung took his own life by leaping from a high-rise building in 2003, six of his fans killed themselves within the next nine hours.

    If Korea is to shed its image of being the suicide capital of the world, it needs to change attitudes toward it. According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, a growing number of Koreans simply perceive suicide as a choice among others to escape pain and suffering, and fewer people have negative views about the drastic decision. The authorities need to educate people from a young age that it is wrong to give up their own lives, and that doing so has an terrible impact on society. Suicide cannot be prevented as long as it is glamorized or treated as a heroic decision. The media is make a mistake by competing to publish all the gory details of celebrity suicides.

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