The suicide rate in Asia’s fourth largest economy is the second largest globally, and the highest in the industrialised world after increasing sharply since 2000 to 25.6 per 100,000 people a year. In 2015, South Korea reported 13,500 suicides, or about 37 a day.
Suicide continues to be the leading cause of death among teens and young people in South Korea, with many blaming the pressure of the relentless focus on education, exams, and familial obligations.
But most victims are elderly, in a country where social safety nets are weak, and old people do not want to burden their families with financial obligations.
Roughly half of the elderly live in poverty or struggle to make ends meet because of a paltry government pension plans. Many hang out in parks during the day, and take free meals from temples.
Among the plans are to make examinations for depression included in mandatory annual health checkups for all South Koreans from their 40s to their 70s.
Prominent suicides have recently hit the headlines, including K-pop star Jonghyun, who killed himself last month, sparking introspection within South Korea’s high pressure entertainment industry. The singer had spoken of suffering from question, and had questioned whether he was cut out for fame.
Jongyun took his own life despite achieving the highest levels of fame and an adoring army of fans.
Despite high educational standards, high paid jobs in South Korea’s highly competitive workplace have also become harder to secure since an economic crisis in the late 1990s.
The criminalisation of suicide pacts was among a series of measures approved by the South Korean cabinet on Tuesday. TV dramas and web cartoons glorifying suicides will also be discouraged. Suicide prevention education will also be required for all soldiers.
Seoul aims to lower the suicide rate to 17 per 100, 000 by 2022. The government said that more than 90 percent of those who killed themselves sent warning signals in advance and that suicides could largely be prevented through people having a senses of awareness.