March 12, 2015 08:30
Some 20.5 percent of North Korean defectors here had suicidal thoughts in the past year, according to a survey of 1,785 defectors by the Korea Hana Foundation, which helps them settle here.
The proportion is more than three times higher than South Korea's already high average of 6.8 percent. A National Assembly audit in 2012 also concluded that the suicide rate among defectors is about three times higher than the average here.
A considerable number suffer from symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder due to the harrowing circumstances of their escape from the repressive North. They also often live with the guilt of having left family and relatives behind while they face the daily stress of adjusting to life in the South, discrimination and loneliness. All these factors lead to depression or other mental problems.
Kim Man-ki (35), a defector who works for a mid-sized construction company here, said he is still haunted by nightmares. In his dreams he is being repatriated to North Korea or savagely beaten in a holding cell.
"I went through those experiences 16 years ago, but the memories are still painfully vivid in my mind," he said.
Other defectors experience acute anxiety due to poverty, fear of an uncertain future and loneliness, which can lead to chronic depression.
Some 52.9 percent were in need of counseling and treatment for depression or anxiety.
Saenuri Party lawmaker Kim Young-woo polled 295 North Korean defectors in 2013, and 78.6 percent said they felt depressed or sad, 81 percent said they suffered from insomnia and anxiety, and 63.4 percent complained of loss of appetite and lethargy.
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