Experts say suicide reports can trigger others to follow suit

Kpop star “Sulli” was found dead on Oct 14 in her home.

PETALING JAYA: When news broke last month that Kpop superstar “Sulli” had taken her life, her fans across the world were shocked – and a Malaysian suicide hotline received calls from local fans who were badly affected.

“We received a few calls that mentioned they were triggered by the news,” said Kenny Lim, executive director of Befrienders. “They said they could relate to the bullying and body-shaming she had suffered.”

“Sulli”, her real name Choi Jin-ri, was found dead in a bedroom on the second floor of her home by her manager on Oct 14. Two South Korean fire department officials were later removed from their positions for leaking details of her death, which were widely shared on social media.

The calls received by Befrienders after her death were a similar response to the death in 2017 of another Korean Kpop star, Jonghyun. Befrienders’ email inbox surged threefold.

Lim said sensitive people can get affected whenever people talk about a prominent figure ending his or her life.

“Most times when there’s a celebrity death by suicide, we get feedback from people who are struggling emotionally. But the rate of increase depends on the celebrity.”

When asked why do people get affected by suicides of celebrities, he said it is because people look up to celebrities. “They are portrayed as enjoying glory, being loved by all, and as being ‘perfect’. So, when they die by suicide, it comes as a shock and the fans would be affected.”

“More so if the victim is a young celebrity, many people see it as a massive loss,” he said.

He said the mass media and users of social media can help by ensuring all suicide cases are told in a way that doesn’t stigmatise suicide.

Mental health professional Dr Ravivarma Rao Panirselvam of Miri Hospital, says some posts and media reporting styles can stigmatise suicide.

“I have been careful in the language I use when talking about suicide – the terms ‘died by suicide’ or ‘victim of suicide’ is preferred to the word ‘commit’, as it tends to be associated with sins or crimes, which in turn makes suicide even more stigmatised.”

He says reports of suicides can trigger cases of copycat suicide, also known as the Werther effect, after a classic German novel by Goethe which contain explicit details of the suicide of the titular character.

“When a person is in crisis, the usual faculties of reasoning may sometimes be compromised especially when one is exhausted in their resources. Under such circumstances, reading such articles can be unhelpful as they may increase distress or worse, become instructive,” he said.

The health ministry has a guideline which outlines several do’s and don’ts for media reports on suicide.

The guideline also suggests suicide should be discussed with more sensitivity, with the intention to create more awareness.

For those who feel like they need help, Befrienders is always there to listen. Call 03-79571306 any time of the day or email [email protected].