Gloomy Korea- Social Safety Net Urgent for Reducing Suicides
Gloomy Korea- Social Safety Net Urgent for Reducing Suicides
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  • 승인 2004.10.01 12:01
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The nation's suicide rate is soaring at an alarming pace. Last year, the number of suicides hit a record high of 11,000, with 24 in every 100,000 people taking their own lives. In 2002, Korea was ranked fourth among 30 OECD countries with 18.7 suicides per 100,000 people, following Hungary (23.2), Japan (19.1) and Finland (18.8). If the other countries' figures have remained relatively unchanged over the period, this country now might well top the list.

Something should be done, very urgently, lest Korea set a dishonorable world record.

More serious than this figure itself is the type of people who are killing themselves. Suicide was the top cause of death among people in their 20s and 30s. About half of those who put an end to their own lives were aged between 20 and 50. This is especially problematic for the nation's future as the people who should being working hardest in the prime of their lives are now facing the worst despair. Failure to keep up with rapid social changes and increasing job insecurity were behind this shaking of the pillars of society.

Apparently, the economic slump has played a major role.

Korea's crude mortality rate for suicide, which shot to 19.9 during the currency crisis of 1998 and then fell back for a while, has been steeply rising since 2001. Statistics show the number of suicides is linked with the rate of unemployment. But economic difficulties do not necessarily lead to more suicides, as shown by the higher suicide rates in advanced countries than in poor, underdeveloped nations. Some reports have noted that in times of war and famine, the suicide rate drops, which also seems to be the case in this country, too.

Local experts in the field point to an increasing trend to attach less importance to life among Koreans, ranging from disgraced CEOs of bankrupt firms to stressed high school students. The social atmosphere is a big factor, too. Unending political strife, economic recession, permanent security threats and various social irregularities deprive Koreans of much hope in their lives. More than 40 percent of young Koreans would leave the country if given the chance. The only time the suicide rate fell recently was during the 2002 World Cup finals, in which Korea unexpectedly reached the quarterfinals.

Suicide may the end pain for individuals but it results in permanent mental damage for people around them. Still, the matter should not be left to individuals but tackled on the state level. The government does not appear to understand the seriousness of this issue, as there is no systematic and professional system for preventing suicides. It allocates only 200 million won of its annual budget to suicide prevention centers, compared with 10 billion won in the United States. The government should sharply increase related budgets and train more counselors to take better care of the socially isolated. Most of all, the governing elite and political leaders ought to make this society a more livable one.

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