Fans bid farewell to K-pop singer, officials flag suicide concerns

SEOUL: Grief-stricken fans braved Seoul’s winter cold on Thursday to bid farewell to Kim Jong-hyun, the lead singer of top South Korean boy band SHINee, but his apparent suicide fuelled health officials’ concern about copycat bids.
South Korea has one of the world’s highest rates of suicide, which is the chief cause of death of those younger than 30, and officials urged distraught young people to seek help.
“Copycat deaths after high-profile celebrities’ suicides are very common,” said Shin Eun-jung, an official of the Korea Suicide Prevention Centre.
“The late K-pop singer was very popular among teenagers, who tend to be particularly vulnerable to emotions and traumas.”
Weeping, wailing and embracing one another, young men and women dressed in grey and black lined the road as a hearse carrying Kim’s coffin left the hospital in the South Korean capital.
“I am so sad that I cannot even cry,” an 18-year-old Chinese fan, Chen Jialin, said at the funeral. “My heart aches so much.”
Kim, 27, was found unconscious next to burning briquettes on a frying pan in a serviced residence in Seoul on Monday, police said.
He died later at a hospital, with officials calling his death an apparent suicide.
South Korea’s suicide rate of 24.1 per 100,000 residents in 2015, according to the latest data from the World Health Organization, was more than double the global average of 10.7.
In 2016, the nation of 51 million reported an average of 36 suicides a day, the government has said.
“We closely monitor news outlets as well as the number of suicides after celebrities’ deaths to prevent a suicide contagion among the broader public,” said a health ministry official.
Studies have shown that high-profile suicides can not only provoke more deaths, but also spur people to adopt similar methods, Shin added.
The concerns spread to Thailand, where officials on Wednesday urged vigilance for fans of Korean pop music who might be at risk of committing suicide.
“Fans who are emotionally weak and depressed are at high risk when it comes to imitating what their idols do,” Samai Sirithongthaworn, a Thai mental health official, said. Kim spent nearly a decade as one of five members of SHINee, as well as being a solo artist. — Reuters