Dealing with lonely deathsMore and more people in Korea are left to perish alone, abandoned and without care from families or community. According to an estimate by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the number of people who suffered the so-called lonely deaths numbered 1,245 in 2015, up 30 percent from the previous year. These were individuals left to die all alone due to financial deprivation and broken homes. Time has come for society to seriously address the issue of solitary deaths and the growing number of isolated individuals in our fast graying population with its fraying families.
In Japan, words like “kodokushi,” referring to solitary deaths, have already gone into common usage. The Japanese central and local governments have been coming up with measures to address the dangerous phenomena. Local governments have been sponsoring various community programs to engage single-member, isolated households. Korea too is turning into a society of estranged and disconnected people. But there is not even credible data on any estimate of those living in isolation. People without homes and families live and die in complete loneliness and without any protection from a social safety net.
According to government data, 483 males in their 40s were discovered in solitary deaths, taking up the largest share of 38.8 percent of the total. More than 385 male and female individuals aged 65 or older accounted for 31 percent. The lonely deaths have spread beyond the elderly to middle-aged people who have fallen behind in society. The government, however, pays little attention to homeless or family-less middle-aged people as welfare policy mostly revolves around seniors. Many of them are not eligible for basic social care or programs for the homeless.
The best solution would be to bring estranged people back into society through community activities. Solitary deaths stem from alienation and indifference. Close networks among neighbors could be a comfort. Sharing of residential space could also be an option. Clustered homes could bring people of different ages, classes and careers lacking families or relatives under one roof to revive a sense of connections and stop them from taking their own lives.
The government also should take pre-emptive actions to prevent people from falling into isolation and alienation because of social and economic mishaps. It is the government and society’s duty not to let unfortunate members of society slip away.
JoongAng Ilbo, Mar. 19, Page 26