A darkly fascinating excerpt from a recent article on the cultural psychology of ‘internet suicide pacts’ in Japan, published in the academic journal Transcultural Psychiatry.
Several scholars and social commentators have drawn a connection between the rise in suicides and the negative influence of the Internet on Japanese youth. Part of the reason for a negative attitude towards Internet group suicide seems to be the fear of contagion. A historical precedent for this exists in the Edo period when a rise in shinjyū or lover’s double suicides resulted from a famous kabuki play by Chikamatsu Monzaemon. The Edo bakufu subsequently prohibited funerary services for individuals who died through shinjyū as a measure to curb the rising number of “copy-cat” suicides. In both the Edo case and the current case of Internet group suicide, there is the sense that the “form” of the suicide spreads like an infectious disease and must therefore be contained.
The expressions of the individuals who visit suicide websites and contemplate Internet group suicide suggest the possibility of alternative interpretations, however. Their comments exhibit what I consider to be a distinctive kind of loneliness and demonstrate a sense of “disconnectedness” from others and from society that signals an existential suffering that may not be reducible to a psychiatric disorder.
The article discusses the phenomenon in terms of the Japanese approach to social connectedness and how the self is seen much more in terms of relations to other people.
According to the author, anthropologist Chikako Ozawa-De Silva, the loneliness and sense of disconnectedness both prompt the suicidal act, and, likely, the seemingly counter-intuitive drive to not die alone.
Link to DOI entry and summary for paywalled article.