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In Japan, it's known as "Yukiko Syndrome."
Following the suicide of Japanese pop singer Yukiko Okada in 1986, there was a sharp rise in copycat suicides. Though the suicide rate quickly returned to normal, "Yukiko syndrome" quickly took on a life of its own and the prospect of further copycat deaths was raised whenever a high-profile suicide occurred. And similar cases of copycat suicides following a celebrity death can be found around the world.
Beginning in 1774 when the publication of Johann Goethe's book, The Sorrows of Young Werther, triggered a rash of suicides by impressionable people imitating the book's hero , copycat suicides have been a recurring problem. Dubbed the "Werther effect" after Goethe's book, the role that mass media can play in spreading suicide contagion is still not well-understood. Despite numerous research studies showing a rise in average suicide rates and emergency room admissions for attempted suicide following a celebrity death, nobody is quite sure why this happens.
To read further, check out my new Psychology Today blog post.
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