By Lee Yeon-woo
Korea has the highest elderly suicide rate among OECD member nations. In 2019, 46.6 senior citizens per 100,000 committed suicide, according to the White Paper of Suicide Prevention released this June by the Ministry of Health and Welfare.
A recent study has found that among other factors, the voter turnout in local elections correlates inversely with the elderly suicide rate. In electoral districts where voter turnouts are high, elderly suicide is low, it says.
In his Ph.D. dissertation examining the factors affecting suicide rates, author Lee Tae-ho said he collected such results after having compared the voter turnouts in electoral districts with elderly suicide rates in the same areas between 2015 and 2019.
He included 16 hypothetical variables, including voter turnout, the number of nearby social welfare facilities, good neighbors and others to figure out if these factors impact the elderly suicide rate.
His results showed that the voter turnout rate correlates inversely with the elderly suicide rate more strongly compared to the other variables he studied.
Lee found that in electoral districts having a voter turnout 1 percent higher than the national average, the elderly suicide rate per 100,000 people was lower by 1.2 percent for men and 0.6 percent for women.
"Voter turnout is an index representing people's attention and willingness to take action on the public agenda. It has been used in studies to measure people's social participation," Lee wrote.
Lee claimed that residents who actively participate in local elections are more likely to reach out to people showing signs of being at risk of suicide, as they have more interest in the public agenda. For example, when people show warning signs of suicide, residents of regions showing high voter turnout tend to respond actively such as by offering help seeking out mental health services.
Lee called for more opportunities for elderly citizens to participate in preventing suicide.
"If we consider elderly suicide a personal issue and take a passive attitude in social support, it is inevitable that the elderly suicide rate will increase. To solve many social issues related to the elderly, we should develop policies and prevent elderly suicide substantially," Lee wrote.
*If you need expert help due to depression or other mental health concerns, you can receive 24-hour counseling at the Korean Suicide Prevention Center's hotline at 1393.