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  • » 01/10/2013, 00.00


    South Korea tops Asia in "unstoppable" scourge of suicide

    Joseph Yun Li-sun

    Every day, about 43 people take their own life in the country. School- and work-related stress are among the main causes. Social alienation and grief induced by suicide in the family are other causes. South Korea has Asia's highest suicide rate. The government should "work to counter the trend," said Mgr Lazarus You Heung-sik, bishop of Daejeon. Given the country's low birth rate, "If the [high suicide] trend continues, the whole society could find itself on the edge of a cliff."

    Seoul (AsiaNews) - Suicide "is one of the worst scourges one can imagine. Life is sacred in all its forms and must be respected. The government and civil society must work to counter the trend, which however appears unstoppable," Mgr Lazarus You Heung-sik, bishop of Daejeon, told AsiaNews.

    According to Ministry of Health and Welfare figures, 15,566 South Koreans killed themselves in 2010. In a country of some 50 million people that translates into a suicide rate of 33.5 per 100,000 people, the highest among 34 member states of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Japan is in second place with 21.2 out of every 100,000 people. Worldwide, only Russia and Lithuania have a higher rate (2009 figures).

    Every day, about 43 South Koreans take their own lives. Most of them are men, but in absolute terms, South Korea tops the list in terms of female suicides. What is more, suicide is the main cause of death for people in their teens, 20s and 30s.

    School- and work-related stress are the main cause according to the government study. Like in other Confucian-oriented Asian nations, personal failures are experienced as existential disasters. This is true for students in primary as well as secondary schools where failure to meet top educational standards means inability to go to a good college and find a good job.

    Another important factor is the inability to form a family because of economic hardships. Social marginalisation begins with job obsession, small disagreements (with neighbours for example) and even grief due to suicides in the family.

    Just a few days ago, former pro-baseball player Cho Sung-min was found hanged at his girlfriend's home. He was the ex-husband of Choi Jin-sil, an actress who killed herself in 2008 after suffering from depression for years following their divorce. Two years later, her younger brother, also an actor and a singer, committed suicide in the prolonged grief at the loss of his sister.

    The government has tried to stem the trend to little effect. A five-year programme implemented in 2004 aimed at reducing the country's suicide rate by one-fifth over the planned period saw the suicide rate actually go up from 23.7 to 31per 100,000. Experts attributed the programme's poor results to a focus on personal psychiatric problems alone, sociologist Park Yon-hee told the Korea Herald.

    Making matters worse is the fact that South Korea has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, which entails an aging population.

    In an editorial, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper wrote, "If the trend continues, the whole society could find itself on the edge of a cliff."

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    See also

    06/04/2007 SOUTH KOREA
    Korean bishops: “With Christ’s resurrection, let us fight against the culture of death”.
    The bishops publish Easter Messages for their diocese, underscoring the pain caused by the government’s policies on abortion and embryonic research.

    17/06/2009 SOUTH KOREA
    Thousands of Catholics and Buddhists against the government and President Lee
    President Lee Myung-bak’s administration is under increasing pressures; accused of paying little attention to the needs of the poor, the environment and human rights. The president is told to apologise for investigating former President Roh, who committed suicide as a result.

    17/08/2006 NORTH KOREA – SOUTH KOREA
    North Korea: Floods claim 54,700 victims and leave 2.5 million homeless

    A humanitarian aid NGO said this was the worst disaster ever to hit the country. The harvest is at stake in a country already hard pressed to feed its people.

    19/01/2008 SOUTH KOREA
    The environmental disaster in Taean is also killing the fishermen
    Lee Yonug-kwon, an oyster farmer, killed himself after the 15,000 tonnes of oil spilled from the Hebei Spirit destroyed the western coast of Korea. The residents accuse the government of doing nothing, and ask how they will survive now that "the ocean is dead".

    29/09/2005 SOUTH KOREA
    Suicide fourth leading cause of death among South Koreans
    Suicide is on the rise among the 20- and 30-something.

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