Reduce senior suicides

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Reduce senior suicides

Korea’s suicide rates announced on Monday - the 10th anniversary of World Suicide Prevention Day - dumbfound us. In 2010, a whopping 15,566 citizens killed themselves, which is equivalent to 42.6 persons a day. Koreans’ suicide rate of 33.5 per 100,000 persons is once again the highest among member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development - and 2.6 times higher than the OECD average of 12.8. The gloomy statistics are a testament that suicide has become a major social problem far beyond the individual realm.

Moreover, suicide was the fourth-leading cause of death in Korea after cardiovascular illness, strokes and cancer. In other words, the number of deaths from suicide is larger than that from diabetes, pneumonia and liver diseases, on which Korea has been spending large amounts of money to bring down mortality rates. That means government and society should come up with a comprehensive package of measures to tame suicides, and a massive investment.

Above all, government authorities should focus on feasible ways to prevent suicides among senior citizens over the age of 65. The suicide rate for them is about 2.4 times the OECD average and four to five times higher than those of Japan and the United States. In 2010 alone, more than one out of four suicides - 4,378 cases - were in that age group.

Statistics Korea has singled out poverty, physical illness and social isolation as major causes of suicide, all of which need sufficient attention from society. The diversity in reasons for suicide demands the government confront the phenomenon in an all-out manner.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare should find measures to reduce the mounting social stress felt by older people in the low income bracket. Also, it must look for ways to provide help to 70 percent of all senior citizens who currently receive a maximum of 94,600 won ($84) a month as their basic pension. To put it simply, the government needs to narrow the scope of recipients of the basic pension to give more substantial help to those in need. Some people really don’t need that monthly check.

Welfare authorities must figure out how to systematically track down and care for people who are particularly vulnerable to alienation and deprivation because of their poverty and isolation. Public health authorities, too, should treat depression - another major cause of suicide - as a social disease, not an individual malady. Korea’s suicides can - and must - be reduced by efforts made by a society that really does care.
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