Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Suicide Rate Gets Worse in 2009

I say many wonderful things about South Korea when I talk to family and friends back home.  But inevitably, I end up giving the shocking statistic that Koreans kill themselves at an alarming rate.  They have the highest suicide rate in the developed world and new reports about data collected from 2009 indicates the problem is only getting worse.

First, on average, 40 Koreans Kill Themselves Every Day:
Some 14,579 people killed themselves last year, or a daily average of about 40, the National Police Agency said Wednesday. That was an increase of 18.8 percent from 2008. 
People over 61 made up the largest portion with 4,614 suicides or 31.6 percent. Police said this was mainly linked to disease and stress caused by economic hardship. 
Among those in their 40s, 2,770 killed themselves, accounting for 19 percent of the total, followed by those in their 50s with 2,427 (16.6 percent), and those in their 30s with 2,508 (17.2 percent). Suicides among 20s continue to increase from 1,428 in 2005 to 1, 793 last year. Some 452 youngsters under 20 killed themselves. 
By gender, 9,395 men and 5,167 women took their own lives. Among people in their 40s, men outnumbered women by 2.4:1 and among those in their 50s by 3.1: 1. 
The largest proportion or 28.3 percent apparently killed themselves due to mental problems, followed by 21.9 percent because of physical diseases; 16.2 percent over economic hardship; 12.6 percent due to domestic conflict; 7.1 percent due to relationship problems; and 6.6 percent due to trouble at work.
To begin, suicides in Korea may be underreported.  To spare families and communities the grief, I have heard many times that suicides are ruled by detectives as accidental homicides.  This is not unique to Korea, family and friends always want to believe that the loss of a loved one was an accident and not a suicide.

There is a major misconception that the suicide rate is a result of mostly students killing themselves for poor grades or business men killing themselves for losing their job.  Those are the stories that make headlines in the papers.  However, the suicide epidemic in Korea is actually amongst the elderly and the poor.  Of those who committed suicide, 31.6 percent were over the age of 61.  Reasons I have heard for this include they feel like an economic burden on their family or society.  The government should be doing more to help the elderly poor so as to reduce this horrifying trend.  I argue that suicides run in the family.  Children of parents who committed suicide are more likely to commit suicide themselves.

Second, Juvenile Suicides are on the Rise:
The number of suicides among youngsters is on a steep rise. Last year 202 people who killed themselves were still at school, up 47 percent from 137 in 2008, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology said Sunday. 
The figure was around 100 to 140 until 2008 but surpassed 200 for the first time in 2009. High school students made up the largest share or 140, followed by 56 middle school students and 6 elementary school children. 
Park Hee-keun, a ministry official, said, "Impulsive and emotionally unstable adolescents seem to have been affected by the 'Werther Effect' with the increasing number of suicides committed by celebrities." Since 2005, many celebrities including actresses Lee Eun-joo, Jung Da-bin, Choi Jin-sil, actors Ahn Jae-hwan, Choi Jin-young, Park Yong-ha and singer Yuni committed suicide. 
Among reasons for juvenile suicides, family conflict accounted for 69 cases; depression for 27; poor performance at school 23; romantic relationships 12; illness or physical problems 7; and bullying or violence 4.
I am an English teacher in a public school, and thankfully I have never had a student of mine commit suicide, but I know other native English teachers that have.  It is traumatic for teachers I think.  I cannot imagine what effect it has on the other students who have known the deceased their entire lives.  Suicide is contagious, and copycat suicides of celebrities is part of that.  I would be really interested to know of these students who killed themselves, how many had either a parent, grandparent, or sibling that committed suicide as well.  There is probably a strong correlation.

The "reasons" statistics for juvenile suicides also make no sense.  Cannot a child both have family conflicts and poor performance at school be the reason for the suicide?  In theory,  a child could have all of these reasons be contributing factors.  Bizarre that in police reports they would give only a single defining reason to explain the death.


Stephanie Klein said...

Hi! My name is Stephanie and believe it or not, I am a writer who stumbled on your blog while writing a YA literary fiction novel. My quest is developing a character trying her best to be a "successful" Korean teenager trying to meet the expectations of her parents, family and friends that she will get into a SKY school/IVY league school after graduating. As I ADORE Korea and don't wish to bash it, it's not a negative message, but it does also raise questions intended to honor both the Korean teen's mantra as well as the Western ones'.

The reason I contacted you? I used to teach in Korea, but now I teach English in the US and I'm looking to get an experience at a boarding school to help me write a significant chunk of the novel that I've had to "write around" because I didn't teach in an environment like that, and can't imagine it sufficiently to write it well. Just in my searches to do this incognito (since you and I have both taught and lived in Korea, you'll understand why I believe that, if I broadcast this, I won't get to see what I want to see!) I have been looking for a side-way in. All I'm looking for is a contact OR even an email address for someone on the inside. The pitch is simple: I teach 8th grade English, and I want to be able to provide a cross-cultural experience for students in my country (very true) by describing to them the Korean high school experience and getting to know students their age. I just want to create a realistic environment for my characters and the readers. I'm a Teach For America teacher with a Johns Hopkins Masters in Ed in the making, so I'd be happy to offer any skills that might be attractive to the prospective powers that be to get me "inside".

Even if I could get info for just a high school, I would be so grateful. I just literally cannot find anything online.

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