South Korea’s figures for 2009 show more than 40 people killed themselves each day, more than double the number who committed suicide a decade ago and is a five-fold increase since 1989. Its 2009 number, 22 deaths per 100,000 people, was the highest suicide rate for the 31 wealthiest nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
(OECD). As a whole, the OECD rate was 18 in 100,000 people, according to the Wall Street Journal
For South Korean males, the suicide rate almost tripled between 1990 and 2006.
Although the country’s economy has been growing on average 7 percent since the Asian crisis ten years ago, South Korea is not experiencing economic stagnation and mass job losses associated with suicide rates in Japan
, its neighbor.
Some suggest the increase is among younger age groups, where some are using the Internet to create suicide groups.
In July, a 24-year-old woman was rescued after an apparent group suicide attempt. The South Korean woman was found floating unconscious in a river near Seoul, rescued by a local resident. She had jumped off a bridge with another woman and three men she met on the Internet, she told police, the Straits Times
Among possible stress factors for younger people are the educational arena, a highly competitive environment, and the job market, according to AFP.
Suicide in South Korea has also been connected to the Korean concept of “han,” a stoicism linked to thoughts of anger and impotence which might arise when faced with a seemingly insurmountable situation. Han
has a deep history in Korean society and is linked to depression. “When a situation is bad and they can’t show their cool selves, Koreans tend to get frustrated, give up and take drastic choices, said Hwang Sang-min, professor of psychology at Yonsei University, WSJ reports.
South Korea’s parliament earlier this year passed a new law granting the government more responsibility in suicide prevention. As a result, new initiatives have occurred, such as installing emergency phones on bridges. There are also plans for nationwide suicide prevention centers, according to local media.
The Korean Association for Suicide Prevention ins working with the Ministry of Health on awareness campaigns in dealing with the problem. Last year, the association, the health ministry and the police teamed together in recruiting hundreds of volunteers to monitor suicide-related websites and online bulletin boards, but the problem is not easily resolved.
Dr. Yoon Dae-hyun, the association’s director of external affairs notes “We are trying to make a difference, but many things still need to be done,” WSJ reports. He added South Korean society “needs to change at its core.”