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Suicide prevention

Publication Date : 10-01-2013


In the first days of the New Year, a string of suicides has reminded Koreans of a gloomy aspect of their society. The most notable of the deaths is that of former pro-baseball player Cho Sung-min, who was found hanged at his girlfriend’s home in Seoul on Sunday. He was the ex-husband of late actress Choi Jin-sil, who killed herself in 2008 after suffering from depression for years following their divorce. Two years later, her younger brother, an actor and singer, also committed suicide in the prolonged grip of the loss of his sister.

The former baseball player’s death was followed by the apparent suicides of nine people including a police officer this week.

The latest wave of suicides should prompt us to act swiftly and thoroughly to tackle the problem that has continued to deteriorate over the past years. According to figures from the Ministry of Health and Welfare, 15,566 Koreans, or 42.6 per day, killed themselves in 2010. The country’s suicide rate of 33.5 per 100,000 people was the highest among 34 member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The OECD average stood at 12.8.

Suicide went up from 10th place in 1997 to third in 2010 on the list of causes of death of Koreans. Among younger people in their 10s-30s, it was the biggest cause of death. Coupled with one of the lowest fertility rates and the fastest-aging population in the world, the ever-increasing number of suicides casts a dark shadow over the future of the country.

Our society as a whole, let alone government officials and private experts, should redouble efforts toward suicide prevention. More attention needs to be paid to social and economic factors behind suicide as well as individual causes.

A lesson should be learned from the miserable outcome of a previous programme implemented for five years from 2004. It was aimed at reducing the country’s suicide rate by one-fifth over the planned period but the figure actually went up to 31 from 23.7. Experts attributed the program’s poor results to a focus on personal psychiatric problems alone.

Thorough research is needed to grasp the conditions that combined to result in suicide through in-depth interviews with bereaved family members, personal documents left by those who killed themselves and their medical records. Using a database built by such studies, effective measures should be worked out and implemented for a selected group of people at a high risk of committing suicide.

Family members and friends left behind after a suicide should also be subject to psychiatric treatment and, if necessary, placed under close watch. The likelihood of them killing themselves is more than four times higher than for other people, according to a local study, as shown in the ensuing suicides of late actress Choi’s brother and former husband.

News media must also refrain from handling suicide cases involving celebrities in a way that could prompt copycat suicides.


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