The ideology of suicide culture is based on the notion that suicide is contagious; that one suicide may lead, or does lead, to a spate of copy-cat deaths. Today there are competing schools of thought on the idea of "suicide culture" and whether it is a true phenomenon or a myth.

Paul Marsden of the Graduate Research Centre in the Social Sciences, University of Sussex, believes that suicide culture is real and occurs in societies around the world. In his paper "Is Suicide Contagious? A Case Study in Applied Memetics" (2001) Marsden claims that "suicide contagion is said to occur when exposure to suicidal acts appears to trigger copycat suicidal acts".

There have been documented examples of small towns in Australia going through spates of youth suicide. In these communities the death of a young person is big news; everyone knows about it, usually down to the last detail. It's thought that such a death introduces the meme of suicide into the culture.

Youth suicide is most prevalent in the rural communities of Australia where it has become an alternative to the monotony and boredom of everyday lives for youth unable to see past the immediate future. After one person suicides others may see the act as an achievable end they might not have thought of previously. The original death in the community also highlights the townspeople's reaction to suicide; if the media portrays the young person as a hero, a misunderstood yet essentially good character, suicidal youth may imagine they will be eulogised the same way, that their errors in life will be forgiven and all will be well after their death. Thus the media plays a part in the creation and upkeep of suicide culture. The media, of course, can't be blamed for the suicide culture, anymore than the suicidal youth can. Neither exists in a vacuum.

On the other hand, some people believe that suicide culture is a myth. Mark Moran, writer of the article "Is suicide contagious- or preventative?", says that exposure to suicide may actually prevent copycat behaviour. A study in the American Journal of Epidemiology (June 15, 2001) revealed that 153 "suicide attempters" in Harris County, Texas, were "exposed" to suicide, whereas there were 513 suicide attempts in those who were not exposed to the suicide of friends, family and media icons. Basically, people were less inclined to suicide if they'd known someone who had died by their own hand. In Moran's article James Mercy, MD, goes so far as to state that exposure to suicide may actually be beneficial to those living in the society; that if you're not close to the dead person, and they have not died recently, the death will prove the inappropriateness and incomprehensibility of suicide and prevent another death.

Another use of the term "suicide culture" comes from Japanese society. For Japanese youth to get into a good college or high school they must study hard as failure to get into a good school is considered shameful for the student, their family and their teachers. Businessmen are also under a great deal of pressure to succeed in their career. According to Chika Watanabe of the American School in Japan, "for the Japanese, suicide is not the same as giving up. It is a dignified resignation, a form of compensation to spare the shame of oneself or of others". Thus suicide has become a part of popular and traditional culture in Japan.

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