To say it has nearly become cliche, but suicide is a serious problem in South Korea. Since the year 2000, cases of people taking their own lives has DOUBLED. For women it has doubled in the past four years alone.
Overall, the suicide rate in Korea is triple that of other industrialized nations, and is currently the leading cause of death among Koreans in their teens, 20s and 30s. By contrast suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in America.
It stretches the boundary of reason to consider that everyday over 40 Koreans take their own lives. When coupled with the lowest birth rate in the world, suicide has become a public health crisis of troubling proportions.
For the general population overall, cancer, followed by brain and heart disease are the three biggest killers in Korea, while suicides come in at fourth. An odd ordering of the top three ailments that one kills themselves with slowly while the quick way out shoots its way up in the rankings.
According to a report released today based on data from Statistics Korea, the annual deaths of youths aged 15-24 by suicide surpassed that of traffic accidents as the leading cause of death. Currently, 14% of all adolescent deaths were a result of them taking their own lives.
As for the young folk, the suicide notes of more than half attributed their choice to end it all to stress due to academic work, including school grades and college preparation.
“The data shows there’s a serious problem within our social structure in terms of education and the economy,” a researcher told the Korea Times. “The education system makes teenagers severely depressed. Also, workers and college students in their early 20s have difficulty coping with inflation.”
And while the most recent report highlights the alarming rise in suicides among adolescents, the problem reaches every part of society. Even the richest man in Korea, Samsung head, Lee Kun Hee, has had both a daughter and a nephew take their own lives.
What to Do?
It is interesting to consider that scientists go to work everyday seeking to find cures to major diseases, but what is being done about the other major killer in this society?
Addressing the problem of teen suicide in particular puts the government in a precarious position. How can it address the problem of rigid education standards when it has contributed so much to its success economically?
Would it, in effect, be committing economic suicide by easing up on the kids? Or, is this a pivot point for the country where it can bring two birds to life with one stone?
On the one hand, the high suicide rate is attributed to the relentless pursuit of passing tests with the use of rote learning. On the other hand, Korea suffers from a dearth of creativity on the world stage due to the lack of critical thinking being taught in the classroom. Could a re-engineering of the education process not address both of these dilemmas?
I will be very curious to see how the country’s leadership addresses the situation in the coming months and years. It has reached a critical point and it is about time that they do.
This will require more than public service announcements and posters. The need for a fundamental change is at hand.
World Wide Suicide Rates (from the OECD)