Are you happy living in Korea?
The "2022 World Happiness Report" was published by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network on March 18, 2022. The top 30 positions on the report were occupied by Northern European countries, as most expected, including Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden. Finland was selected as the world's happiest country for the fifth consecutive years. Then, what do you think Korea’s happiness index is? Of the 146 countries included on the list, Japan ranked 54th and South Korea ranked 59th.
The World Happiness Index ranked dystopia, corruption, tolerance, freedom to freely choose life, expected life expectancy, social help and tolerance, and GDP(Gross Domestic Product) per population.
In the case of Korea, it was at the top in terms of GDP and expected life expectancy compared to the population, but at the bottom in terms of social help and tolerance, which illustrates that there is a big difference from high evaluation Korea gained in the G20, the summit of 20 major OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries.
Why is Korea ranked so low? The standards of happiness of Koreans and those of the world are different. According to a 2019 survey of 5,020 people aged 19 to 80 regarding the conditions of happiness, the participants thought they would be happier if the following conditions are satisfied: living a happy family with a good spouse (31%), earning money and fame (12.7%), doing things that suit their aptitude (10.4%), and enjoying leisure life (7.6%). On the contrary, Koreans seem to regard health, family, children, money, and travel as the conditions of happiness.
Why is Korea's suicide rate high?
Korea has the fourth highest suicide rate in the world and is the top among OECD countries (the world's highest suicide rate belongs to Lesotho). Suicide in Korea has nearly tripled in the past 20 years, becoming the fourth major cause of death in Korea after cancer, cerebrovascular disease, and heart disease. Suicide is no longer a personal problem, but a serious social problem. Why is the suicide rate in Korea increasing?
To find out why, a professor of mental health medicine at Soonchunhyang University Cheonan Hospital conducted a study on 200 adults who attempted suicide and 144 adult depression patients who were contemplating suicide. The main causes of suicide attempts were the feeling of being a burden, disconnection from a sense of belonging, and the acquired suicide potential(lower fear of suicide). The research team analyzed the causes of making social adaptation and interpersonal relationships difficult and increasing the symptoms of depression which in turn leads to suicide attempts. The research team divided the participants into two groups in order to analyze the levels of depression: one with suicidal thoughts; the other with suicidal attempts. It was found that the degree of depression of the former was much higher than that of the latter. They said that they hope their study would help to lower the suicide rate of Koreans by identifying risk factors in advance and blocking the path to suicide attempts.
It's also worth considering social background as a reason for why the suicide rate in Korea is so high. Each country has different factors determining their suicide rates. In Korea, one of them is suicide of the elderly. Traditionally, it has been expected that children would take good care of their elderly parents. However, this belief has gradually disappeared in the 21st century and many elderly people have a tendency to commit suicide because they do not want to give any burden on their family members. Another factor is student suicide. The rate of Korean student suicide is also increasing due to the high level of pressure from their study and parents’ expectation.
What should the government do to reduce suicide rates and what efforts should individuals make?
The Korean government established a "National Action Plan for Suicide Prevention" in 2018 with the aim of reducing the suicide rate from 25.6 people per 100,000 to 17.0 by 2022. To prepare a basic system, an entire social network has been established to identify major characteristics of each region and high-risk groups for suicide. People who are found to be at high risk of depression or suicide through the Mental Health Case Management System are not only provided with the necessary welfare services, but are also actively controlled by the network. In addition, to eliminate the risk factors that can trigger suicide, the guidelines for the report on suicide were made and it has been strongly recommended that the cultural contents such as broadcasting, webtoons and dramas faithfully follow the guidelines. The most important thing is that suicide prevention education or programs should be conducted for respective subjects: the elderly, soldiers, unemployed, police officers, etc.
There are various personal efforts that can be made to prevent suicide. First, individuals can try to increase the ratio of positive emotions by objectifying the ratio of positive and negative emotions through the writing an emotional diary. Second, people prone to suicidal thoughts are asked to praise themselves every day, even if it's trivial. Third, if a nearby acquaintance shows signs of suicide, we have to encourage them to contact the institutions listed below for counseling: Korea Foundation for Suicide Prevention, National Center for Mental Health, Masan Center for Mental Health and Welfare, etc.
[Suicide Prevention Centers and Consultation Calls]
Changwon Mental Health and Welfare Center Home Page 055-287-1223 / http://www.cwmhc.or.kr
Masan Center for Mental Health and Welfare 055-225-6031/ http://msmhc6031.co.kr/sub02/sub03_01.php
Life Sharing Suicide Prevention Center 02-735-1010 / http://www.my-life.or.kr
Cyber Counseling Center for Youth 051-662-3100 / https://www.cyber1388.kr:447 24-hour
Emergency Call Consultation (nationwide) / 1577-0199 / Life Line Korea / 1588-9191 / http://www.lifeline.or.kr