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South Korean 'healing center' closes people in coffins to prevent suicide

By Ben Hooper
People climb into coffins at the Hyowon Healing Center in Seoul, South Korea. The center aims to prevent suicide by staging funerals for participants and closing them in coffins for 10 minutes. BBC News video screenshot
People climb into coffins at the Hyowon Healing Center in Seoul, South Korea. The center aims to prevent suicide by staging funerals for participants and closing them in coffins for 10 minutes. BBC News video screenshot

SEOUL, Dec. 14 (UPI) -- A South Korean "healing center" is tackling the country's suicide problem by having people stage their own "funerals" and spend time locked in coffins.

The Hyowon Healing Center in Seoul, founded by former funeral director Jeong Yong-mun, features groups of people -- often those suffering from depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts -- being dressed in funeral regalia, photographed in the style of a picture found on a coffin and then being told to write final letters to their loved ones.

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The people then climb into coffins and lie down hugging pictures of themselves before a black-clad figure representing the Angel of Death slams the lid of each casket.

The participants remain inside the coffins for 10 minutes.

"The head of the center tells them: 'Now you know what death looks like. You are alive. Fight for Korea,'" French photographer Francoise Huguier, who photographed one of the sessions earlier this year, told CNN.

South Korea has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, with the Korean Neuropsychiatric Association reporting an estimated quarter of the country's workforce suffer from high stress levels.

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The experience is billed as an "experimental death in order to better appreciate life," but Huguier expressed doubts about its ability to reduce the country's suicide rate.

"People I met told me it helped them to feel better," Huguier said. "They do believe this is an answer, but I don't."

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