Korea’s suicide rate: continues to soar

In a post last year, I referred to an article in the Washington Post that illustrated that the Korean suicide rate has tripled in the previous two decades.

Hard to believe, but recent news is even worse.

An article published on September 5, 2011, written by BBC News by reporter Lucy Williamson in Seoul, reported that the Korean government’s latest figures for 2009 again jumped.

Look at the graph to the right. Grab a red marker and extend the red line for Korea up to 40 for 2009. The 2009 rate for Korea is now 5 times higher than it was in 1989 (30 years ago).

How does this compare to other countries? The World Health Organization calculates that the current world average rate is 10.07 deaths per 100,000 people. (This data is presented clearly by country at chartbin.com.)

The U.S., for comparison, was a bit higher than Korea’s in 1989, but appears to have settled out near the world average (I wasn’t able to find 2009 data for the U.S.)

Why has Korea’s 2009 rate reached the new high of 40, a factor of four higher than the world average of 10?

The answer is a combination of focus on studying, test scores, university name status, physical beauty, coupled with a culture caught between traditional and modern ways. There are many aspects to this that are obvious, and many more that are perhaps yet unknown. Changing from a third-world country to a first-world country in a few decades has not come without a price.

The BBC article notes that the Korean parliament passed a law earlier this year giving the government more responsibility for preventing suicides.

Talking about this is a first step. Taking some action is an urgent next step, for all of us.

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