Desperate measures in South Korea

High stress and rapidly changing economy forcing many to consider suicide.


    The elderly in South Korea are one group
    seeing rising numbers of suicides
    The apparent suicide of 26-year old South Korean actress Jeong Da-bin on Saturday has put the spotlight on the soaring number of people taking their own lives in South Korea.

    Her death is the latest in a series of high profile suicides in a country that has seen a higher proportion of its citizens take their own lives than any other developed nation.

    Suicide is the leading cause of death amongst South Koreans in their 20s and 30s and the number four cause overall.

    In 2005 police say more than 14,000 South Koreans committed suicide.

    The growth of the internet is blamed by some as a factor, for helping people find ways to kill themselves. But South Korea’s rapidly changing economy is also a major issue.


    The world’s ninth biggest economy is often touted as an Asian success story – but there is a downside to its prosperity in the form of growing numbers of poor.

    Suicides per 100,000 population

    United States: 10.2
    South Korea: 24.7

    Source: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 

    "The gap between rich and poor is widening," says Park Won-Suk, a civic activist.


    "What is striking is that we have a lot more poor. They have income, but 15 per cent of the population in Korea is living below the poverty line."


    South Korea enjoyed huge growth in the eighties and nineties producing consumer goods and cars.


    South Korean brands have become household names and the country is one of the biggest producers of TV’s in the world. Samsung, for example, is the biggest seller in the US.


    But for four out of the last five years the economy has suffered and when that happens it can prove devastating.


    Social crisis


    Telephone helplines have found
    themselves in high demand
    With growing numbers of poor, especially among the old, food kitchens have become an increasingly common sight across Seoul.


    Faced with an ageing population and a falling birthrate South Korea faces a worsening social crisis.


    Lifeline, a South Korean charity providing 24 phone counselling to people considering suicide, has seen demand for its services soar.


    Kim Yeun-Eun, one of the Lifeline counsellors, says his office alone receives around 100 calls a day.


    People in their 40s, the head of households with a lot of responsibilities are top of the list, he says.




    Some groups have offered novel
    but short-term solutions
    For those in their 20s and 30s a growing cause of death is suicide and now the rates of suicide of teenagers has been increasing as well.


    Hospitals report rising number of cases of young people with slashed wrists or in need of having their stomachs pumped having taken an overdose of drugs.


    South Korea is one of the most expensive countries in the world to live in.


    Property prices in the capital, Seoul, for example, have rocketed in recent years and competition for jobs is fierce.


    Faced with rising prices, high unemployment, a welfare system which cannot keep pace, record numbers of South Koreans are succumbing to depression.


    "We don’t have enough anti suicide centres and hotlines to cope," says psychiatrist Han Chang-hwan.


    "The psychiatric field and the government are trying to come up with measures to help, but so far they haven’t worked."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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