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Reporting guidelines reduced number of suicides: study

(Yonhap)
(Yonhap)
Revised media guidelines on reporting of celebrity suicides resulted in reduced rate of suicides among the general public in South Korea, research results showed.

A team of researchers led by Dr. Jeon Hong-jin in the psychiatry department of Samsung Medical Center analyzed the suicide rates from 2005 through 2017, and found that after media guidelines were revised in 2013, there was a significant downward trend in the average daily suicides.

The paper, titled “Effect of suicide prevention law and media guidelines on copycat suicide of general population following celebrity suicides in South Korea, 2005-2017,” was published in the latest issue of the Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry.

Under a “suicide prevention law” enacted in 2012, the South Korean government, suicide prevention centers and the Journalists Association of Korea revised the media guidelines for suicide reporting in 2013.

Under the guidelines, media reports should refrain from using the word “suicide” in headlines and use “dies” instead; should not detail how, where and why that person killed themselves; and respect the privacy of the bereaved families.

The latest research by Jeon’s team demonstrates the Papageno effect, or the influence that mass media can have by responsibly reporting on suicide.

According to a 2021 suicide prevention white paper issue by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, 13,018 people killed themselves in South Korea last year, which is 5.7 percent less compared to the previous year, and 13.2 percent down from the peak in 2019.

According to the research team, compared with the 30 days prior to the reports on the suicide of 24 celebrities, the number of suicidal deaths in the general population increased by 13 percent during the 30 days after the reports between 2005 and 2011.

Even when taking into account the Kospi, unemployment rate and consumer price index, the media reports on celebrity suicides clearly had a Werther effect.

But after the revision of media guidelines, the average daily suicide deaths in the 30-day period following reports of celebrity suicides showed a downward trend.

“More lives were saved thanks to mass media efforts over the past years. But the media effect has been growing again since 2018 as news of celebrity suicides is spread more easily and through diverse routes such as YouTube and social media,” Jeon said, adding that social consensus and support are necessary to improve the situation.

By Kim So-hyun (sophie@heraldcorp.com)
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