On Copycat Suicides: R.I.P. Kim Jong-hyun
On the night of December 18th, 2017, while browsing through Facebook after a long day at work, I come across the shocking news of the suicide and death of Kim Jonghyun, a member of the popular South Korean boyband, SHINee. It is a tragic thing to witness the end result of how it is to fall into the throes of depression at such a young age, when a potentially promising future lies ahead of him.
But I was also aware of the potential devastation in fans of the band, and particularly, diehard fans of his, because of my brief obsession with K-Pop almost five to six years ago, and knowing the extent of the fans’ adoration towards a K-Pop act, it is not difficult to imagine the impact of this tragedy. These are people who look up to these idols because they wanted to emulate them, to learn through their examples on how to act, how to think, and how to live. This is essentially what it means to idolize someone, to transform their everyday behaviors into something to be modeled after.
And this is not entirely a bad thing, because we all seek for role models in our lives, so that we can learn the traits that we all find good. We learn through observation because we are social beings after all.
But, what if an idol of ours chose to end their lives with their own hands? Do we follow suit?
There is a strange phenomenon called “copycat suicide”, also known as “Yukiko syndrome”, termed after a high profile suicide of a former Japanese idol, Yukiko Okada, where shortly after her death, many people in Japan copied her method of suicide and died in the same fashion. Another recent example is the death of Hide from Japanese heavy metal band, X Japan, as within a week of his suicide, three others followed in his footsteps.
The largest factor that people like to blame is the media, in particular, media that sensationalize or romanticize the suicide that is being reported. Given the influence that an idolized person holds in our hearts, the idea that he or she is doing so (suicide) might register as an approval of sorts (of using suicide to cope with life’s struggles) towards those who are susceptible, especially if we are already in a vulnerable state (i.e. struggling in life, or are already depressed).
Kim Jonghyun’s death is not the only reported celebrity suicide this year, two other notable ones being Chris Cornell’s (Soundgarden) and Chester Beninngton (Linkin Park). And just this morning, while several of my friends and I were talking about this topic, one of us remarked that he saw a news about a potential suicide of one of SHINee’s fanclub members (which is unfortunately written only in Mandarin, but I will link it below nonetheless).
It truly is a sad fact that not only is depression such an underestimated issue in our society, but that discussion about it is still labeled as taboo in our society. As such, suicides will remain invisible to those who denied its significance. I saw comments on pages of Jonghyun’s suicide reports that ‘he doesn’t know what real pain is’, or ‘he is just a privileged person that doesn’t know how lucky he is compared to the really unfortunate’. But depression is real, and something that so many people suffered from should never be erased from the public discussion, even if it might go unnoticed or hidden by those who suffered from it so that they can evade the cruel views of those who are ignorant of its effects. Even when your idols are on stage with a big smile plastered over their faces while they sang and danced to your favorite tunes.
This is the chance to do so, to speak out and to discuss. Rest in Peace, JongHyun.
Note to those who contemplated suicide before, or those who are in grief over this news:
You probably heard of this a thousand times before, and it may sound tired to repeat this, but know that you are not alone, and even if it might not help solve all your internal pain, just know that there are people who are willing to listen, and sometimes, a listening ear is what you need, even for the shortest amounts of time.
There is always an alternative solution to your struggles, other than death, and if you aren’t sure as to how to go about these solutions, there are others who will be there to help you. Because when you are already under pain from depression, you might not be in the best position to make decisions, as your mind is clouded by your symptoms. In such times, it is alright to rely on others.
Since the major factor is extensive media reporting, then the probable solution could be a refusal to highlight an event of suicide, or in the very least, attach to the report an alternative way of solving the issues instead of choosing death. This is the crux of the “Papageno effect”.
But being as we are in an age of social media, when information is so readily primed to reach every corner of our waking hours, and so very accessible too to the audience, it really is difficult to pinpoint on how to create this change in how news are conveyed or transmitted.
News of the copycat suicide after Jonghyun’s death: http://www.chinapress.com.my/20171219/%E9%90%98%E9%89%89%E7%87%92%E7%82%AD%E8%87%AA%E6%AE%BA%E2%80%A78%E5%B9%B4%E9%90%B5%E7%B2%89%E4%B9%9F%E8%B7%9F%E8%91%97%E4%B8%80%E8%B5%B7%E8%B5%B0/