Suicide in South Korea

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South Korea has a relatively high suicide rate among developed nations,[1] although the rate has been continuously declining in recent years due to proactive prevention efforts by both public and private organizations. In 2014, there were 27.3 suicides per 100,000 people, a 4.1% decline from the previous year (28.5 people) and the lowest in 6 years since 2008's 26.0 people.[2] South Korea has the highest suicide rate in the world among developed nations,[3] and at 28.9 per 100,000 population age-standardized mortality rate, its suicide rate is the second highest in the world, exceeded only by Guyana.[4]

Within South Korea, the suicide rate varies by age, gender, and geographic regions. North Korean defectors in South Korea have a higher suicide rate than the rest of the population.[5] While multiple factors cause South Korea's high suicide rate, government initiatives and policies have attempted to address the issue.


Suicide rate by gender and age in South Korea 2012, per 100,000 people


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 the UK, the suicide rates cut down significantly as people age, but the elderly suicide rate ranks the highest among age-specific suicide rates in South Korea.[6]


On average, men have a suicide rate that is twice as high as women's.[7] However, the suicide attempt rate is higher for women than men. According to a study, 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 the ratio between five risk and five rescue factors, averaged out to be 37.18 for men and 34.00 for women.[7] One study has translated this to the fact that women attempt to commit suicide more as a demonstration, while men commit suicide with a determined purpose.[8]

Compared to other OECD countries, South Korea’s female suicide rate marks the first with 15.0 deaths on the suicidal rate list per 100,000 deaths, while the male suicide rate marks third with 32.5 per every 100,000 deaths.[9] 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%.[10]

Socioeconomic status[edit]

Socioeconomic status is measured by a population’s level of education, degree of urbanity and deprivation of the residence. [11]Given these standards, lower education, rural residence, and area deprivation is often associated with a higher suicidal rate. [11] The economic hardship factor is noted as the most frequently referred cause for elderly suicides. As 71.4% of the elderly population is uneducated and 37.1% of them live in rural areas, they are more likely to face economic hardship, which can lead to health problems and family conflicts. [11] All these factors together lead to an increase in suicidal ideation and completion.[11]


Gangwon has the highest suicide rate compared with any other geographic region in South Korea by 37.84%. [12] Following Gangwon, Chungnam rates second and Jeonbuk rates third. [12] Ulsan, Gangwon, and Incheon have the highest suicide rate for the elders, people of age above 65. [12] Daegu has the highest suicide rate for age ranging from 40 to 59. [12] Finally, Gangwon, Jeonnam, and Chungnam have highest suicide rate for age of 20-39.[12]


Because South 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 who commit suicide use pesticides.[13] 58.3% of suicides from 1996 to 2005 used pesticide poisoning.[14] Another prevalent method that people use is hanging.[15] Just as women prefer certain suicide methods, a study has shown that unplanned suicide attempters use certain suicide methods more than planned suicide attempters. Unplanned suicide attempters tend to use chemical agents or falling three times more than planned suicide attempters. [16]

Notable cases[edit]

Lee Eun-ju committed suicide at age 24
President Roh Moo-Hyun committed suicide 23 May 2009 after jumping from a 45-meter cliff known behind his house in his home village of Bongha Maeul

In 2005 actress Lee Eun-ju, the star of hit films including Taegukgi and The Scarlet Letter, committed suicide at age 24.[17] Former President Roh Moo-hyun committed suicide on 23 May 2009 by jumping from a mountain cliff. Supermodel[18] Daul Kim committed suicide on November 19, 2009 in Paris.[19]

Construction tycoon Sung Wan-jong committed suicide in April 2015 amid allegations of corruption and left a suicide note in which he named those whom he claimed had been involved in corruption.[20] Performance artist U;Nee died by hanging in 2007 aged 25.[21] "The Nation's Actress" Choi Jin-sil committed suicide in 2008,[22] as did her ex-husband Cho Sung-min in 2013.

There have also been notable cases of suicides in response to tragedies. Two days after the disaster of the ferry Sewol in April 2014, a high school principal who was rescued committed suicide. He had organized the trip for the students. The president of the ferry company was also later found dead in a suspected suicide. In October 2014, a government safety official committed suicide after 16 people were killed at a concert he oversaw.[23] In 2015, following a fatal bus crash of Korean civil servants visiting China, a government official involved with the organization committed suicide by jumping out of his hotel room in China.



According to a study, Korea experiences a surge of suicides after deaths of celebrities.[24] The study has found three out of eleven cases of celebrity suicide resulted in a higher suicide rate of the population. [24] The study controlled for the potential effects of confounding factors, such as seasonality and unemployment rates, and yet celebrity suicides still had a strong correlation to increased rate of suicide rates for nine weeks. [24]The degree of media coverage of celebrity suicides impacts the degree of increase of suicide rates. In the study, the three celebrity suicides that received wide media coverage led to a surge in suicide rates, and the other celebrity suicides with low media coverage did not lead to an increase in suicide rate.[24] In addition to the increased suicidal ideation, celebrity suicides lead people to use the same methods to commit suicide.[25] Following actress Lee Eun-ju’s death in 2005, more people used the same method of hanging. [25]

An ongoing study has also suggested that high use of the Internet may cause suicides. [26] Among 1573 high school students, 1.6% of the population suffered from Internet addiction and 38.0% had a risk of Internet addiction. [26] The students with internet addiction or was at risk had a higher rate of suicide ideation compared to those without Internet addiction.[26]


Many people have been 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), with maternal death having a bigger impact to the rate of suicidal attempt than paternal death.[27] A study has shown that men have highest suicidal attempt rate when they experience maternal death in the ages of 0-4 and 5-9. Women have the highest suicide attempt rate when they experience maternal death in the ages of 5-9.[27]


In 1997 and 1998, the 1997 Asian financial crisis hit Korea. [28] During and after the economic recession of 1998, Korea experienced a sharp economic recession of −6.9% and a surge of unemployment rate of 7.0%. [28] A study has shown that this economic downfall have a strong correlation with an increase in suicide rates. [28] Increase in unemployment and higher divorce rate during the economic downturn lead to clinical depression, which is a common factor that leads to suicide. [28] Moreover, according to Durkheim, economic downfall disturbs the social standing of an individual, meaning that the individual’s demands and expectations no longer be meet. Thus, a person who cannot readjust to the deprived social order caused by economic downfall is more likely to commit suicide.[28]

Analyzing the suicides up to 2003, Park and Lester [29] note that unemployment is a major factor of high suicide rate. In South Korea, it has been the traditional duty of children to take care of their parents. [29] However, as "cultural tradition of filial obligation is not congruent with the increasingly competitive, specialized labor market of the modern era", the elderly are sacrificing themselves by committing suicide so to lessen the burden on the children. [29]


In Korea, every student is obligated to take the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) in order to be eligible to apply to college. Because majority of parents strive their children to enter the top institutions, “the national obsession that revolves around higher education is focused on getting a near perfect score on the CSAT, along with having top grades in school.”[30] In other words, the pressure to do well on this exam is stringent on both parents and students. For example, parents “micro-manage every hour that could be spent studying, whether a weekend or holiday”.[30] Moreover, parents offer bribes to teachers to look preferably on their children, as the statistics show that 27% of teachers have accepted bribes. With the social pressure to do well on the tests, students choose the option of suicide as an escape. According to the National Statistical Office, 1,000 students between the ages of 10 and 19 committed suicide from 2000 to 2003 due to their stress caused by the education. In addition, Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union and Korea Youth Counseling Institute’s surveys have shown that 43% to 48% of students had the suicide ideation.[30]


Korea has implemented the Strategies to Prevent Suicide (STOPS), a project whose “initiatives aimed at increasing public awareness, improving media reporting of suicide, screening for persons at high risk of suicide, restricting access to means, and improving treatment of suicidally depressed patients”. All of these methods strive to increase public awareness and governmental support for suicide prevention. Currently, Korea and other countries that have implemented this initiative are in the process of evaluating how much influence this initiative has on the suicide rate.[31] The education ministry created a smartphone app to check students’ social media posts, messages and web searches for words related to suicide.[32]

Because the media coverage and portrayal of suicide influence the suicide rate, the government has “promulgated national guidelines for reporting on suicide in print media”. The national guideline helps the media coverage to focus more on warning signs and possibilities of treatment, rather than factors that lead to the suicide.[31]

Another method that South Korea has implemented is educating gatekeepers.[31] The gatekeeper education primarily consists of knowledge of suicide and dealing with suicidal individuals, and this education is provided to teachers, social workers, volunteers and youth leaders.[31] The Korean government educates gatekeepers within the at-risk communities, such as female elders or low-income families. To maximize the effect of gatekeepers, the government has also implemented evaluation programs to report the results.[31] Physical measures are also taken to prevent suicide. The government has reduced “access to lethal means of self-harm” . As mentioned above in the methods, the government has reduced access to poisoning agents, monoxide from charcoal, and finally train platforms. This helps to decrease the impulsive suicidal behavior.[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rupert Wingfield-Hayes BBC News Why does Japan have such a high suicide rate? 3 July 2015
  2. ^
  3. ^ Rupert Wingfield-Hayes BBC News Why does Japan have such a high suicide rate? 3 July 2015
  4. ^ WHO Global Health Observatory Data Repository Suicide rates: Data by country
  5. ^ Stephen Evans, BBC News Korea's hidden problem: Suicidal defectors 11/5/2015
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ a b 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.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ a b c d 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.
  12. ^ a b c d e 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.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ Jeon, Hong Jin, Jun-Young Lee, Young Moon Lee, Jin Pyo Hong, Seung-Hee Won, Seong-Jin Cho, Jin-Yeong Kim, Sung Man Chang, Hae Woo Lee, and Maeng Je Cho. "Unplanned versus Planned Suicide Attempters, Precipitants, Methods, and an Association with Mental Disorders in a Korea-based Community Sample." Journal of Affective Disorders 127, no. 1-3 (2010): 274-80.
  17. ^ "Grief, Speculation Greet Mysterious Lee Eun-ju Suicide". The Chosun Ilbo. 2005-02-24. Retrieved 2014-04-24. 
  18. ^ Daul Kim accessed 4/21/2015
  19. ^ Henry Samuel, Daul Kim found hanged after posting web messages 20 Nov 2009
  20. ^ [BBC News]] South Korea in turmoil over corruption scandal Stephen Evans, 4/21/2015
  21. ^ Looi, Elizabeth, "Korean singer found hanged", Malaysia Star, January 25, 2007.
  22. ^ Yi, Whan-woo (6 January 2013). "Choi Jin-sil tragedy relived". The Korea Times. Retrieved 2013-01-08. 
  23. ^ Kreps, Daniel (18 October 2014). "Korean Safety Official Commits Suicide Following Concert Tragedy". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 19 September 2015. 
  24. ^ a b c d 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.
  25. ^ a b 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.
  26. ^ a b c 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.
  27. ^ a b 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.
  28. ^ a b c d e 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.
  29. ^ a b c 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. 
  30. ^ a b c Card, James. "Life and death exams in South Korea." Asia Times 11, no. 30 (2005): 2005.
  31. ^ a b c d e f Hendin, Herbert, Shuiyuan Xiao, Xianyun Li, Tran Thanh Huong, Hong Wang, and Ulrich Hegerl. "Suicide Prevention in Asia: Future Directions." WHO. Accessed November 4, 2014.
  32. ^ South Korea announces app to combat student suicide DANIEL COSTA-ROBERTS March 15, 2015

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