Society must prevent suicidesLife, as the great novelist Leo Tolstoy has said, is not a game and we have no right to give it up. But the saying is wasted in South Korea, where the suicide rate is the highest among OECD member countries. According to 2012 data, 28.1 out of 100,000 people took their own life, 2.3 times the OECD average. The suicide rate is also quickly rising, surging more than 100 percent between 2000 and 2010. During the same period, suicide rates fell in every country in the developed world, except for Portugal and Chile. Somehow, Korea suddenly became an unbearable place to live, but the government and society have no plan to put a stop to suicides. As result, the toll is getting bigger.
Medical, psychosocial and philosophical difficulties can lead to suicides. Deaths as a result of existential questioning could take place at any age and in any society. They are hard to notice and prevent. But suicides from widespread social and psychological conditions - such as depression, isolation and stress factors like financial difficulties and traumatic experiences as well as medical and mental disabilities - can be prevented through community and public policy efforts.
Until this month, there had been no thorough study on the types and causes of suicide in the country, which is why specific and effective measures have not been taken. The Ministry of Health and Welfare this month released a report on suicide based on interviews and written surveys. Depression and other mental problems were cited as the biggest reasons among 37.9 percent out of 1,359 people who said they had attempted suicide. Stress from interpersonal relationships was next at 31.2 percent and physical disabilities at 5.7 percent. Medical and social problems also contributed to the suicide rate.
Psychologists often compare suicides to car accidents. In the early 1990s, about 40 out of 100,000 people died from car accidents. As the economy prospered, the number of cars increased and so did traffic deaths. The government and civilians decided to strengthen traffic laws. As a result, deaths have been reduced to 10 out of 100,000. With action, suicides, too, can be contained.
The latest study has provided us some guidelines. If adequate care is provided to the high-risk group - those who have attempted suicide - the suicide rate could drop sharply. Local governments have seen positive results from free consultation services for people who self-harm. Depression should also be treated as a brain illness instead of a mental problem so that social welfare support can become more accessible. A National Assembly study showed that the social and economic cost from suicides is 3.08 trillion won ($2.91 billion) a year. All of society must be committed to preventing suicides.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 2, Page 30