April 23, 2007 11:12
A study has found that Korea's suicide rate is the highest among the 30 member countries of the OECD.
According to an OECD report on Sunday, Korea's suicide rate stands at 24.7 cases per 100,000 people, the highest in the group. Hungary followed with 22.6, then Japan with 20.3 and Belgium with 18.4. The U.S. recorded 10.2 suicides per 100,000, less than half Korea's figure.
Korea's suicide rate also grew fastest during the last 25 years, an annual average of 5.01 percent since 1982. During the same period, other countries have reported growth in their suicide rates of around 2 percent on average, while Australia, Norway and Greece have reduced their rates.
In 1982, Korea's suicide rate stood at 6.8 cases per 100,000, one of the lowest in the world, along with Mexico at 2.3, Greece at 3.3 and Spain at 4.8. Experts blame the increase on the culture of fierce competition in Korean society.
"Research shows that 80 percent of people who kill themselves suffer from psychiatric problems like depression. The biggest factor is stress," said Yoon Se-chang, a professor of neuropsychiatry at Samsung Medical Center. "High competition since elementary school explains the high suicide rate in Korea."
The suicide rate among young people is especially high in Korea. According to statistics for 2005 from the National Statistics Office, the leading cause of death for people in their 20s and 30s was suicide. For people in their 20s, the rate is 17.7 suicides per 100,000, and for the people in their 30s it's 21.8.
"The increasing suicide rate is related to the rapid socioeconomic decline such as the increasing rates of unemployment and divorce since the financial crisis of 1997," said Lee Hong-shik, the president of the Korean Association for Suicide Prevention. "In the past, families served to ease such shocks. But these days, without the family protection, people feel more despair and more impulse to kill themselves."
Experts from home and abroad who attended a symposium on suicide at the World Psychiatric Association's 2007 Regional Meeting in Seoul said suicide is rapidly increasing among industrialized Asian countries like Korea. To solve the problem, the experts say communities should set up systems to identify the problem at the earliest possible stage.
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