Suicide in South Korea

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South Korea has a very high suicide rate compared to other developed countries. However, government efforts has began to substantially reduce suicide rates in 2012, with a 11% decline from the previous year and returning to the lowest level since 2008.[1]



In sharp contrast to high suicide rates in younger ages in other countries, Korea has a particularly high suicide rate in the 65 or above age group. In UK, the suicide rates cut down significantly as the age group gets older, but the elderly suicide rate ranks the highest among age-specific suicide rates in South Korea.[2]


On average, men have suicide rate that is twice as high as women’s. However, suicide attempt rate is higher for women than men. Because men use more severe and lethal suicide methods, men have higher suicidal completion rate than women. The Risk-Rescue Rating Scale (RRRS), which measures the lethality of the suicidal method by gauging ratio between 5 risk and 5 rescue factors, averaged out to be 37.18 for men and 34.00 for women. [3]This can translate to the fact that women attempt to commit suicide more as a demonstration, while men commit suicide with a determined purpose. [4] However, compared to other OEDC countries, South Korea’s women suicide rate marks the first on the list for 15.0 deaths per 1000,000 deaths, and men suicide rate marks third for 32.5 per every 100,000 deaths. [5] Women also had a higher increase of proportional suicide rate over men between 1986 and 2005. Men increased by 244%, while women increased by 282%. [6]

Socioeconomic Status[edit]

Socioeconomic status is measured by a population’s level of education, degree of urbanity and deprivation of the residence. Given these standards, lower education, rural residence, and area deprivation is often associated with higher suicidal rate. The economic hardship factor is noted as the most frequently referred cause for elderly deaths. As 71.4% of elderly population is uneducated and 37.1% of them live in rural areas, they are more likely to face economic hardship, which led to health problems and family conflicts. All these factors together led to increase in suicidal ideation and completion. [7]


Kangwon rates highest suicide rate by 37.84%. Chungnam and Jeonbuk follow after Kangwon. Ulsan, Kangwon, and Inchon have the highest suicide rate for age above 65. Daegu has the highest suicide rate for age ranging from 40-59. Finally, Kangwon, Jeonnam, and Chungnam have highest suicide rate for age of 20-39. [8]

Analyzing the suicides up to 2003, Park and Lester note that unemployment was a major factor, and that "cultural tradition of filial obligation is not congruent with the increasingly competitive, specialized labor market of the modern era." In South Korea, it has been the traditional duty of children to take care of their parents. In the modern economy it is more difficult, so the elderly are sacrificing themselves by committing suicide so to lessen the burden on the children.[9]


Because Korea restricts firearms, only one third of Korean women use violent methods to commit suicide. Poisoning is the most commonly used method, as half of Korean women uses pesticides to commit suicide. [10]58.3% of suicide from 1996 to 2005 used pesticide poisoning. [11]Another prevalent method is hanging. [12]



According to a study, Korea experiences a surge of suicide rates after deaths of celebrities. A study found three out of eleven cases of celebrity suicide resulted in higher suicidal rate of the population. The study eliminated the potential effects of confounding factors, such as seasonality, and unemployment rates, yet the trend of increased suicidal rate persisted for nine weeks following celebrity suicides. The degree of media coverage of celebrity suicides impacted the degree of increase of suicide rates. The three celebrity suicides led to a surge in suicide rates because of their wide media coverage, and the other celebrity suicides not so much because of their low media coverage. [13] In addition to the increased suicidal ideation, celebrity suicides lead people even to use the same methods. Following Lee’s death, more people used the same method of hanging as a result. [14]

An ongoing study also suggests that high use of the Internet may cause suicides. Among 1573 high school students, 1.6% of the population suffered from Internet addiction and 38.0% had a risk of Internet addiction. These students had a stronger suicide ideation compared to those without Internet addiction. [15]


Many people are left orphaned or have lost a parent due to the Korean War. Within a random group of 12,532 adults, 18.6% of the respondents have lost their biological parent(s), and maternal death has a bigger impact to the rate of suicidal attempt than paternal death. Men have highest suicidal attempt rate when they experience maternal death in the ages of 0-4 and 5-9, while women had the highest suicidal attempt rate when they experience maternal death in the ages of 5-9. [16]


An economic crisis hit Korea around 1977 to 1998 that led to the south/east Asian countries’ economic downfall. Such downfall in 1988 is shown to have a strong correlation with an increase in suicide rates, along with a rise of unemployment and divorce rates. In 1988, Korea experienced a sharp recession of -6.9% and a surge of unemployment rate to 7.0%. According to Durkheim, economic downfall disturbs the social standing of an individual, meaning that the individual’s demands and expectations would no longer be met. Thus, the person who cannot readjust to the deprived social order caused by economic downfall is more likely to commit suicide. Moreover, increase in unemployment and higher divorce rate during the economic downturn lead to depression, which is a common factor that leads to suicide. [17]


The Government of South Korea has appointed a task force of 100 people to check the internet in South Korea, including blogs and social media sites, for any material that helps or encourages suicide.[18]

Park and Lester note that in South Korea there is a cultural belief that suicide is an individual problem, which makes it difficult to secure funding for state medical, welfare and educational programs aiming to reduce the suicide rate.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Kim, Seong Yi, Myoung-Hee Kim, Ichiro Kawachi, and Youngtae Cho. "Comparative Epidemiology of Suicide in South Korea and Japan: Effects of Age, Gender and Suicide Methods." Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention, 2011, 5-14.
  3. ^ Hur, Ji-Won, Bun-Hee Lee, Sung-Woo Lee, Se-Hoon Shim, Sang-Woo Han, and Yong-Ku Kim. "Gender Differences in Suicidal Behavior in Korea."Psychiatry Investigation, 2008, 28.
  4. ^ Cheong, Kyu-Seok, Min-Hyeok Choi, Byung-Mann Cho, Tae-Ho Yoon, Chang-Hun Kim, Yu-Mi Kim, and In-Kyung Hwang. "Suicide Rate Differences by Sex, Age, and Urbanicity, and Related Regional Factors in Korea." Journal of Preventive Medicine and Public Health, 2012, 70.
  5. ^ Kwon, Jin-Won, Heeran Chun, and Sung-Il Cho. "A Closer Look at the Increase in Suicide Rates in South Korea from 1986–2005." BMC Public Health, 2009, 72.
  6. ^ Kwon, Jin-Won, Heeran Chun, and Sung-Il Cho. "A Closer Look at the Increase in Suicide Rates in South Korea from 1986–2005." BMC Public Health, 2009, 72.
  7. ^ Kim, Myoung-Hee, Kyunghee Jung-Choi, Hee-Jin Jun, and Ichiro Kawachi. "Socioeconomic Inequalities in Suicidal Ideation, Parasuicides, and Completed Suicides in South Korea."Social Science & Medicine 70, no. 8 (2010): 1254-261.
  8. ^ Park, E,Hyun, Cl Lee, EJ Lee, and SC Hong. "A Study on Regional Differentials in Death Caused by Suicide in South Korea." Europe PubMed Central, 2007.
  9. ^ a b B. C. Ben Park; David Lester (2008). "South Korea". In Paul S. F. Yip. Suicide in Asia: Causes and Prevention. Hong Kong University Press. pp. 27–30. ISBN 978-962-209-943-2. Retrieved 14 January 2013. 
  10. ^ Chen, Ying-Yeh, Nam-Soo Park, and Tsung-Hsueh Lu. "Suicide Methods Used by Women in Korea, Sweden, Taiwan and the United States." Journal of the Formosan Medical Association 108, no. 6 (2009): 452-59.
  11. ^ Lee, Won Jin, Eun Shil Cha, Eun Sook Park, Kyoung Ae Kong, Jun Hyeok Yi, and Mia Son. "Deaths from Pesticide Poisoning in South Korea: Trends over 10 years." International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health 82, no. 3 (2008): 365-71.
  12. ^ Kim, Seong Yi, Myoung-Hee Kim, Ichiro Kawachi, and Youngtae Cho. "Comparative Epidemiology of Suicide in South Korea and Japan: Effects of Age, Gender and Suicide Methods." Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention, 2011, 5-14.
  13. ^ Fu, King-Wa, C. H. Chan, and Michel Botbol. "A Study of the Impact of Thirteen Celebrity Suicides on Subsequent Suicide Rates in South Korea from 2005 to 2009." PLoS ONE, 2013, E53870.
  14. ^ Ji, Nam Ju, Weon Young Lee, Maeng Seok Noh, and Paul S.f. Yip. "The Impact of Indiscriminate Media Coverage of a Celebrity Suicide on a Society with a High Suicide Rate: Epidemiological Findings on Copycat Suicides from South Korea." Journal of Affective Disorders 156 (2014): 56-61.
  15. ^ Kim, K., E. Ryu, M. Chon, E. Yeun, S. Choi, J. Seo, and B. Nam. "Internet Addiction In Korean Adolescents And Its Relation To Depression And Suicidal Ideation: A Questionnaire Survey." International Journal of Nursing Studies 43, no. 2 (2006): 185-92.
  16. ^ Jeon, Hong Jin, Jin Pyo Hong, Maurizio Fava, David Mischoulon, Maren Nyer, Aya Inamori, Jee Hoon Sohn, Sujeong Seong, and Maeng Je Cho. "Childhood Parental Death and Lifetime Suicide Attempt of the Opposite-Gender Offspring in a Nationwide Community Sample of Korea." Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior 43, no. 6 (2013): 598-610.
  17. ^ Chang, Shu-Sen, David Gunnell, Jonathan A.c. Sterne, Tsung-Hsueh Lu, and Andrew T.a. Cheng. "Was the Economic Crisis 1997–1998 Responsible for Rising Suicide Rates in East/Southeast Asia? A Time–trend Analysis for Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Thailand." Social Science & Medicine 68, no. 7 (2009): 1322-331.
  18. ^ "South Korea suicide rates prompt web scrutiny". 5 June 2012. 

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