Asia-Pacific, South Korea

Suicide in South Korea: Choosing to Die Than to Disappoint

This is a complementary piece of our August 2017 Issue: Death

There is a suicide epidemic amongst teens and the elderly in South Korea, and the government is doing nothing about it.

Suicide in South Korea has reached epidemic proportions amongst both teens and the elderly. This developed nation leads the world amongst OECD countries in self-inflicted death.

This article intends to explore the background behind this phenomena, as for every cause there must be a reason. But for what reason would a developed nation have such tragic statistics against its name? Arguably, South Korea is one of the best-connected countries regarding technology; therefore communication could not possibly be the issue? Would the high standard of living compared to other nations in the world not deter people from taking their own lives? It appears that material comfort alone can’t stop the determined.

Suicide Knows Neither Age Nor Rank

This can be shown through the recent spate of high-profile suicides, including that of former president Roh Moo-hyun, who lept off a mountain cliff in 2009, plummeting to his death after facing fierce criticism in his diplomatic and economic performance. In the same year, supermodel Daul Kim took her own life after suffering loneliness and depression, hanging herself in her Paris apartment, leaving behind a suicide note in her wake. Two people, young and old, talented yet troubled, were found dead. Why?

An ongoing study by the International Journal of Nursing Students cites one key motivator for the high rate of suicides amongst notable individuals such as Roh Moo-hyun and Daul Kim; the internet. The perception of oneself differs dramatically online to what it does in real life. Keyboard warriors can hide behind screens and slander those from the comfort of their bedroom, yet the victims of these cyber-trolls still suffer from the raw emotions of being judged and criticized. Moreover, being a celebrity or a politician comes with a natural degree of unregulated scrutiny to which there is little or no defence; and the tabloid media are keen to add to the fodder.

The vast majority of suicides, however, are undertaken by regular people leading regular lives. Whether one is a celebrity or a civilian, life is still life. Therefore it is important not to disregard this fact. In an advanced economy like South Korea, particularly one where elders are treated with respect as it is a custom in East Asian cultures, South Korea’s geriatric suicide rate is appalling.

Pressure from all Sides for the most Defenseless in Society

The reasons behind this are three-fold.

Firstly, South Korea’s social welfare system is notoriously poor for such an affluent nation; with the National Pension Scheme providing a mere 16% of the minimum subsistence level if insurance contributions were too meager.

Secondly, the lack of government support for the elderly often results in this demographic asking family members for financial assistance, eating into the shame culture that persists in Korean society to this day.

Third and most importantly, this cycle of shame and dependence attacks the moral virtues of the elderly, leading to depression and eventual suicide.

On the other end of the demographic spectrum, suicide remains one of the leading causes of death amongst teenagers in South Korea, overtaking traffic accidents in 2013. Similar to the older generation, pressure remains the most poignant factor, yet it is a different kind of pressure to that experienced by the elderly.

It is not the pressure of dependence, but one of chronic stress to not let down their parents in regards to examinations and career expectations; yet very little is being done about it. The lack of social support from the South Korean government in recognizing this issue, likely out of shame itself, means that the high rates of suicide in the country will likely persist at either end of the demographic sandwich, with both generations seeking to please their parents and not to burden their children.

About Peter Mossack

Peter is the CEO of Kinstream Media, and he manages the editorial board and day-to-day operations as the publisher of CrowdH. He’s a tech and news junkie, and an avid social media analyst who’s always on the lookout for new stories to cover. He has been an entrepreneur for the past 20 years and he’s now dedicated to change the news, and the world!

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