Suicide In Korea

Yesterday evening while walking around, Lime and I passed a TV that was showing news of yet another celebrity suicide, not this one but apparently another, a singer. She mentioned that the singer’s suicide really surprised her, more than the movie-actor’s girlfriend and the actress’. I asked her, “Why did she do it?” and she told me that it was apparently depression, and that this was the apparent cause of the other suicides that have been happening lately.

“Huh, but why were they depressed?” I asked.

She turned and said one of those one-liners that was halfway a joke, but half-way serious: “This is Korea. Everyone’s depressed.”

It’s not exactly true, but I did have a discomfiting experience on the subway when a very nice fellow struck up a conversation with me that finally led to him asking me whether I could help him get citizenship in Canada. Isn’t that the kind of thing one hears about in, oh, Viet Nam or Burma or something?

Anyway, there has been a rash of celebrity suicides in Korea, and I don’t know why. It’d be nice, though, if this spurred a public awareness campaign that might convince people to seriously consider professional psychiatric help if they’re depressed? I know, I know, any accusation of mental illness here is tantamount to a mama-joke, and mama-jokes don’t fly over here, and I don’t think that Korea needs to follow America’s lead on psychoactive medications for every complaint… but it’d be nice if lessening the stigma about mental health problems saved some lives. After all, Korea has been a world leader in terms of its rate of increase in suicide for years now, and finally beat out Japan, Hungary, and even dark and chilly (ie. S.A.D.-inducing) Finland for the top suicide rate of all OECD nations in 2005, at a rate more than double what it was a little over a decade ago.

For the record, while I doubt that there’s anything to the idea that it has anything to do with the ostensible Ural-Altaic language family (which Marmot didn’t really seem to pose seriously at all), it may well be that that those cultures also happen to have (a) gone through a lot of social transition lately, and (b) not be very open to psychiatric help. Since I know very little about Finand and Hungary, I really do wonder what Antti would say.

6 thoughts on “Suicide In Korea

  1. A number of high schools in southern NH had suicides in the mid-80s. (Not at school, but kids attending the schools.) All of the schools were offered the services of an organization that ran a suicide prevention hotline, as their primary service, but would also send people in to be “grief counselors” or somesuch in the wake of a suicide.

    One of the schools declined. Of all the schools with at least 1 suicide, IIRC that was the only one with 3 or more suicides. And the principal denied that there was any sort of a problem, and refused all offers of counselling from outside the school.

  2. So, I’m wondering if that sort of attitude is prevelent enough in Korea to be really messing things up as far as mental health stuff goes.

  3. I’d say that I suspect it is, but I’m no expert. I do know that they still have the stigma we used to have about psychiatric treatment and mental illness that we had about 50 years ago, and that the stigma might even be stronger, as “crazy” is actually one of those hot-button insults here.

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