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Suicide rate up again, country leads OECD

Sept 25,2019
The number of suicides in Korea increased by nearly 10 percent last year, with the suicide rate rising steeply following four years of declines.

According to data from Statistics Korea on Tuesday, 13,670 deaths by suicide were recorded last year, rising from 12,463 suicides a year earlier. Last year’s figure translates to 37.5 suicides per day and a suicide rate - the number of suicides per 100,000 people - of 26.6, an increase of 9.5 percent from the previous year.

Prior to last year’s rise, the suicide rate had been on a steady decline after 2013, when it was 28.5.

The rate also increased when tabulated using international standards.

If the OECD’s calculation methods are applied, Korea’s suicide rate stood at 23 in 2017, second highest after Lithuania, at 24.4, among the 36 member countries of the OECD, according to Statistics Korea.

Last year’s figure, which translates to 24.7 using OECD methods, places Korea back on the top of the list. Korea topped the list in 2016.

Suicide was the leading cause of death for individuals aged 10 to 39. It was the second leading cause of death for those in the 40s and 50s age groups. It was the fifth leading cause of all deaths last year, accounting for 4.6 percent of the total.

Cancer remained the leading cause of death for Koreans, making up 26.5 percent of all deaths, followed by heart disease at 10.7 percent and pneumonia at 7.8 percent.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare said that while it was difficult to pinpoint why the number of suicides increased, copycat suicides did increase last year following numerous suicides by celebrities.

According to research by Samsung Medical Center in 2015, there are an average of 6.7 copycat suicides per day following a celebrity suicide death.

The Health Ministry said it has strengthened suicide prevention programs and that suicides through July this year had fallen around 8 percent from the same period in 2018.

The government has taken a more proactive stance to tackling the issue.

BY CHAE YUN-HWAN [chae.yunhwan@joongang.co.kr]