Most suicide victims signal their intent: study

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Most suicide victims signal their intent: study

Nine out of 10 people who commit suicide signal their intention to their families and friends before they act, but the signs mostly go unnoticed, according to new study results.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare announced Tuesday the results of psychological autopsies of 121 people who committed suicide conducted by the Korea Psychological Autopsy Center. Psychological autopsies involve collecting information on the deceased through interviews with family and close acquaintances. For this study, 151 family members and friends were interviewed.

The results show that 93.4 percent of those who committed suicide signaled their intention through various means. The most common signal was talking about death directly by saying, “I want to die.” Some had written in letters or in their diaries that they “kept thinking about negative things.” Many experienced sudden physical changes such as insomnia or inability to focus, or committed spontaneous actions such as withdrawing their savings and giving it to family members with a note saying, “Thank you for everything,” or “I’m sorry.”

But four out of five, or 81 percent, of family members and friends of the deceased failed to notice these signs. For most of them, the word suicide didn’t even cross their minds. “Many families realized these signs only after a psychological autopsy,” said Cha Jeon-kyung, the policy director of the psychological health department at the Health Ministry.

Families that detected the signs still failed to prevent the deaths due to a lack of knowledge on how to respond or responding too late.

“We need training and education for ordinary citizens on detecting signs of impending suicide attempts,” said Baek Jong-woo, deputy head of the psychological autopsy center. “It is helpful for one to know where to call or consult when contemplating suicide, such as the Psychological Health Treatment Center [which has multiple locations and can be reached by dialing 1577-0199].”

Studies also revealed that many who committed suicide were also experiencing psychological health issues. Of the psychological health disorders that 88.4 percent of the deceased had been diagnosed with, depression was the most common at 74.8 percent. Yet only 15 percent received regular medical treatment, meaning that most of those contemplating suicide committed the act without receiving appropriate help.

Alcohol was another influential factor behind the suicides, with 39.7 percent under the influence of alcohol at the time of death.

Many also appeared clueless of their own suicidal thoughts and psychological health issues. Instead of seeking psychotherapy centers, 28.1 percent visited small general health clinics in their area or oriental medicine clinics. “A systematic policy response to provide easy access to psychological health services for those contemplating suicide is paramount,” said Yoo Sung-eun, a professor of psychology at Chungbuk National University in Cheongju, North Chungcheong. “The government must allow more ways for patients to receive antidepressants, and provide appropriate training so that internal medicine clinics or family physicians who are the first to see the patients can respond quickly.”

Suicides also proved to be epidemic among family members and friends: 28.1 percent of the family members of those who committed suicides also attempted suicide.

The wife of a man who committed suicide, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “I wish the government would provide one-stop service for family members left behind.”

To this, Cha responded, “The ministry will seek to strengthen suicide analysis and the psychological autopsy process to further assist the family members of the deceased.”

The Ministry of Health said it plans this month to establish an overall policy response to psychological health that involves early detection, treatment and suicide prevention, using recent the results of recent studies.

By CHUNG JONG-HOON [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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