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Korea rolls out measures to fight suicide among teenagers, young adults

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 A statue for a prevention of suicide is installed on a bridege over Han river in Mapo District, Seoul, Sept. 10, 2023. Yonhap

A statue for a prevention of suicide is installed on a bridege over Han river in Mapo District, Seoul, Sept. 10, 2023. Yonhap

Government to offer therapy; run suicide prevention and trauma recovery centers
By Kwak Yeon-soo

Korea has rolled out several comprehensive suicide prevention measures to help curb the country's high suicide rate, the government said Friday.

Presiding over the eighth Suicide Prevention Policy Committee meeting, Prime Minister Han Duck-soo pointed out that Korea has the highest suicide rate among OECD member states.

A total of 13,770 people took their own lives in 2023, up 6.7 percent from a year earlier, according to tentative data released by the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

Split by gender, 9,626, or 70 percent of suicides in 2023 were by men and 4,144, or 30 percent, were by women. The total number of suicide deaths in the January to March period in 2024 tentatively stood at 3,794, up 4.7 percent from the same period a year earlier.

The government found that in the two months after an actor died by suicide in December 2023, copycat suicides increased. To enhance suicide prevention efforts, it requested media professionals working in print, broadcast and online media to adopt guidelines when reporting on suicides.

The most alarming trend was a rise in suicide attempts by teenagers and those in their 20s. The suicide attempt and intentional self-harm rates for teenagers and those in their 20s were 160.5 and 190.8 per 100,000 individuals, respectively. The same rate for those in their 30s was 91.5 per 100,000 individuals, while the overall average stood at 84.4, according to data from the National Medical Center.

"The proportion of emergency patients who have attempted suicide more than twice has increased. Because the physical and mental health in young adults impacts overall health and well-being, we will prioritize support for young people and provide psychiatric treatment to them regardless of their income level," the prime minister's office said in a statement.

The government found that when a suicide death occurs, negative emotions such as sadness, fear and anxiety can spread throughout the community, which potentially creates a copycat effect.

The suicide rate spiked in Sejong City in 2022, up 22.8 percent from a year earlier. South Cheongcheong Province came in next, up 3 percent from a year ago and Daegu too was up 2.6 percent from a year ago.

Han advised provisional governments to establish and implement community-tailored suicide prevention measures.

Factors such as social isolation, economic hardship as well as depression and anxiety caused by the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic were found to have a direct or indirect effect on the increase in suicide deaths.

The government will offer psychological therapy to those affected to prevent depression and anxiety from worsening. It will also run suicide prevention and trauma recovery centers after catastrophic events in cooperation with local governments to help those affected. It also vowed to analyze root causes of suicide deaths by linking related data such as economic factors and health records.

Han said, "We plan to improve access to professional counseling by providing counseling services to 80,000 people this year and to all citizens in 2026. Suicide can be prevented if there is an increased awareness and social support."

Kwak Yeon-soo


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