Coronavirus blues prompts surge in suicide rates
The number of ambulances dispatched in response to suicides or attempted suicides has soared over the last four years, according to data released by the office of Rep. Kim Do-eup of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP).
Suicide-related ambulance dispatch cases from 2017 through 2020 numbered 66,096, meaning that ambulances were sent to deal with 36 cases daily. The ambulance dispatch figure surged from 11,954 in 2017 to 19,234 in 2020, posting a 60.9 percent spike. Death by jumping from a tall building topped the list of suicide methods with 14,625, followed by hanging, stabbing, poisoning, in-vehicle gassing, drowning and self-immolation. Gyeonggi Province accounted for 25.8 percent of the total with 17,072, followed by Seoul (21.3 percent), Busan (5.9 percent) and South Gyeongsang Province (5.8 percent).
That more people are dying by suicide here is not new. According to the OECD Health Statistics 2021 issued in July, South Korea had the highest suicide rate among all member nations with the 24.7 per 100,000 people in 2018, more than double the OECD average of 11.
The causes of suicide are complex, but economic difficulties are often blamed for the country's high rate. Young people suffer facing long-term unemployment prospects, and middle-aged people are experiencing limited class mobility. And nearly half of elderly people are living below the poverty line.
More worrisome is that the suicide rate may surge in years to come as the COVID-19 blues deepen. This requires the government to do more to prevent people from killing themselves. Specifically, it's necessary to raise public awareness about suicide and mental health, improve media coverage and keep a close watch on persons at high risk of suicide. But our society being extremely polarized and unfair is surely causing people from all walks of life to feel tempted to kill themselves. This is why all-out efforts are needed to ensure equal opportunity and reduce inequalities of outcome.