Time for a Concerted Effort to Reduce the Suicide Rate

      March 25, 2010 10:18

      An average of 35 people commit suicide in Korea every day, the highest rate among the 30 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs said on Wednesday. The suicide rate in Korea climbed from 21.5 for every 100,000 people in 2006 to 23.9 in 2007 and 24.3 in 2008, and is nearly 10 times higher than that of Greece, which was 2.5 for every 100,000 people in 2007. Korea has become the suicide capital of the world.

      The total number of suicides surged from 8,622 in 1998 to 12,858 in 2008, and suicide has become the number one cause of death among Koreans in their 20s and 30s. It is on the rise among senior citizens aged 61 or older as well, climbing from 788 in 1998 to 4,029 in 2008.

      The Korean Council of Religious Leaders, composed of the heads of the country's seven major religions, has issued a joint statement with the government vowing to tackle the problem. "Suicide has now become a serious problem that requires the concerted efforts of all members of our society," the statement said.

      Perhaps the most worrying fact in the health ministry's announcement on Wednesday is that suicide has become the second leading cause of death among Korean teenagers, following traffic accidents. According to data from Statistics Korea, 317 teenagers committed suicide in 2008, up from 232 in 2006 and 309 in 2007.

      A study on teen suicide between 2004 and 2008 conducted by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology found that family trouble was the number one reason, accounting for 28.4 percent of all cases. Next was depression (19.6 percent), stress from studying (10.1 percent) and relationship problems with boyfriends or girlfriends (7.2 percent). One out of every five teenagers said they thought about killing themselves.

      The U.S. government has spent US$82 million since 2004 implementing a nationwide suicide prevention system. Students who return to school following failed suicide attempts are placed under the watch and guidance of counselors. Japan, which also has a high teen suicide rate, launched a nationwide anti-suicide campaign from 2000 and passed a law in 2006 to address the situation.

      Korea needs to launch a systematic process in schools to diagnose depression among students. If a young person becomes irritable, undergoes changes in sleeping or eating patterns, or talks often about death, they should be brought to see a therapist. Any pro-suicide websites should also be shut down. It is important that all of society makes efforts to prevent suicide and promote the value of life.

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