Suicide in Korea

Posted on May 25, 2013


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For a long time now, I’ve been highly aware of the fact that Korea has the highest rate of suicide amongst developed countries; it’s hard to ignore this fact, when you read Korean celeb websites and find that another, actor/actress/singer/sportsperson has sadly chosen to end their life. This tragic side of Korean culture, was once again brought to the forefront in recent days, after news blew up everywhere of a woman being found dead in G.O.D member Son Ho Young’s car– she was later confirmed to have been his secret girlfriend for the past year, and was said to have committed suicide after arguing with him, although the true reasons are still coming to light. A few days later, the story has further spiralled into growing tragedy, as Son Ho Young became overwhelmed with grief from his girlfriend’s death, that he attempted to commit suicide in the same way that she had (story HERE.)

These recent events, show the prevalence of suicide in Korea, and that whether you’re a celebrity or just the average Joe on the street- you can easily succumb to sadness and the choice to take your own life.  I don’t think I’ve ever written a post about such a serious topic but I think it’s worth exploring and explaining more to my readers, to help you understand that there can be a much darker side to Korean society then the la-di-da Kpop life we have grown to love.

Suicide Statistics and Reasons

The main reason for suicides in Korea, is given by Wiki as

Of the 29,501 suicides in South Korea between 2009 and 2010, the causes were: psychological despair 28.8% (8,489 cases), physical pain 22.6% (6,672), economic difficulties 15.9% (4,690), and family problems 11.4% (3,363).[11] In cases of youth suicide, the most common cause is pressure related to the College Scholastic Ability Test.

Reading more into suicide culture in Korea, I was surprised to find that the growing age range for suicides are actually amongst the elderly and that deaths by those in the  younger generation, comes secondary.

Sadly, stories such as THIS one, show that the elderly have chosen to commit suicide because they face financial instability; government provided pensions aren’t enough to cover the basics, or are sometimes cut back even more so because eligibility for a pension is discounted if they think that the elderly’s children have enough financial means to support their parents. Sadly, a lot of children are breaking away from the traditional, confucian values of supporting and being filial to their parents, as a result, many parents grow old and alone in the countryside, not daring to face the shame of asking their children for money.

For the younger generation, suicide is still a popular choice of death in the under 40’s (as explained HERE on wiki) and, in my own opinion, I think this has become more popularised because of celebrity deaths, which make it seem like an ‘easy,’ way to end any turmoils you have.

I think that young people in Korea choose to commit suicide because of pressures to be the ‘best,’ in both study and earning money. Having taught English in Korea, I was surprised at how hard parents push their children to study; they study from 9am till sometimes 9pm, if they are enrolled in after-school classes, therefore the statistic of youth suicide being “pressure related to the College Scholastic Ability Test,” (a type of national exam for eligibility into University,) does not surprise me.

It also doesn’t help that Korean’s seem to have a ‘grit through,’ kind of personality to everything in life- they live as a whole society rather than individuals and so I can imagine how difficult it might be for someone to talk about themselves if they are (for example,) feeling depressed. In fact a young lady in THIS story, said that she had tried to commit suicide a number of times as a cry for help and desperation, but that her family looked down upon her saying she had a “weak mind,” rather than help her seek the counselling she so obviously needed. In general, it feels like mental illness or depression, is still very much a Taboo subject in Korea.

The Future

It’s hard to predict if suicide rates will continue to grow as crazily as they have during these past 10 years, with rates having doubled thus far, but I hope that the law introduced back in 2011, which means giving “the government more responsibility for preventing suicides,” will help slow down this growth.

I think, in general, it’s a hard issue to tackle because it’s means changing many different facets that are key to Korean culture; such as the general idea of ‘saving face,’ and pressures to be ‘the best,’ in work, education and life. However, if such things are integral to Korean society- then methods of preventing suicide, such as making mental illness less taboo and the offer of good counselling more easily available, must also slowly be introduced and become integral to the society to counter-act all the negativity.

Then, hopefully, headlines stories such as these (below,) won’t remain so commonplace.

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Posted in: From Cookie, In Korea