[Viewpoint] Suicide is a community’s concern
Over the past two decades, deaths by suicide have gone up rapidly, and society has reached a consensus that suicide is a matter that concerns not only individuals; it is also a threat to the stability of the community.
The latest spate of collective suicides is a case in point. There are no precise data about collective suicides in Korea, and such cases are very rare in most countries, comprising only up to 4 percent of all suicides. But apart from their impact on families and friends, collective suicides are nothing short of shocking.
Until recently, such suicides seemed to be limited to people in intimate relationships, such as married couples and lovers. But today, strangers meet in cyberspace and agree to commit suicide together, raising justifiable societal concerns.
Cyberspace, by becoming a tool to provide information on how to commit suicide, is a threat to those individuals who are incapable of controlling the urge to kill themselves or who face a personal crisis.
There are vulnerable people who cannot resist the temptation of committing suicide when they are exposed to the lure of cyberspace.
Moreover, mass media reporting can also unintentionally provide information about suicide to these people.
Endlessly echoed reporting about suicides of celebrities with sensational headlines often influence other people to attempt to kill themselves.
As of now, the government and concerned organizations are trying their best to block information about suicide and collective suicides from the Internet.
However, monitoring is not sufficient because of the peculiar nature of cyberspace.
In order to prevent collective suicides, local communities must directly give attention to groups or individuals with a high potential for committing suicide in order to keep them from feeling isolated.
Social welfare support is also crucial.
Those who participate in collective suicide are somebody’s neighbor or friend, so it is easy to detect when a person is in need of help by paying just a little more attention to people around you.
In December 2008, the government announced its second measure to prevent suicides.
Suicide prevention education programs are included in the measure, but it is more urgent that children in local communities learn to respect life and health.
Those who are contemplating suicide form relationships in cyberspace because they feel alienated in everyday life. To prevent this, the community must become more capable of helping them so that they can find comfort in real life.
In addition to emergency counseling and rescue, available resources in a community must be managed comprehensively to provide systemic and adequate help to those vulnerable to suicide.
And the media should also be more careful about their reporting about suicides.
Respect the guidelines issued by experts on how to report about such deaths.
It is impossible to predict exactly when a suicide will happen and who will choose to end one’s life.
But it is easy to find out the motives and triggers behind suicide as well as warning signs of suicide risk and prevention when people around a desperate person pay attention.
Suicide is preventable.
With efforts from every member in the community, suicides in our society can be reduced.
*The writer is a medical doctor and psychiatrist at the Seoul National University Hospital.
by Nam Yoon-Young