The South Korean government has unveiled a plan to help prevent celebrity deaths by suicide and the copycat deaths of fans.
The plan was announced on Friday, a few days after the ministries of education and health and welfare held a joint meeting about the problem.
Korea is currently enjoying the global success of K-pop, television drama series and feature films. But the industry is seen as achieving success through a high-pressure system where the failure rate is high, and success comes with intense online scrutiny.
In recent years, several Korean celebrities and media personalities have taken their own lives, with reasons believed to include depression, guilt, shame and cyber-bullying. The death by suicide of Jonghyun, a member of K-pop boyband SHINee, was one of the most publicized of 2018. The following year, the deaths by suicide of performers Sulli and Goo Hara sent further shockwaves through the entertainment industry, raising mental health concerns of K-pop stars.
The updated suicide prevention plan aims to eliminate blind spots in the mental health management of Korean celebrities and artistes by agents and managers. It increases the number of psychological consultations carried out by the Korean Creative Content Agency (KOCCA) from 900 this year to 1,300 in 2022. The country’s mental health service will send its ‘Heart Relief Bus’ to visit more film sets. Financial aid and treatment expenses will be extended to entertainers with unstable income.
The ‘Werther Effect’ is the subsequent mimicry of a suicide after a widely publicized one, typically by celebrities or high-profile figures. The ministries advocate closer monitoring of media reporting.
While cause and effect are hard to prove, it is known that fans who took their own lives have referred to widely-discussed events such as the #MeToo movement or the Burning Sun scandal associated with BigBang’s Seungri. The death by suicide of celebrities can provide, not only a reference for obsessed fans (known as sasaengs in Korea), but also lessen the feeling of guilt of and enable fans to take extreme measures.
If you or anyone you know in the U.S. is having thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources. In other territories, please call your local suicide hotline.