Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Enemies of the Culture of LIfe

The Seoul subway system is probably the world's most extensive and because of recently installed platform screen doors--the only subway to do so--one of the safest. With this change, the number of those who have committed suicide by jumping in front of an on-coming train has declined dramatically. Suicides of those jumping into the Han River, however, have increased, with most taking place at the Mapo Bridge. In an effort to change the negative image of the bridge, colorful pictures and life-affirming words can be seen posted around the bridge to dissuade future suicides.

The Culture of Life column of the Peace Weekly once again reports on this suicide problem in Korea, suggesting that several causal factors may be responsible for the increase: the rapid change to an industrialized society, the difficult experience during the IMF period, and the advancing age of the population.

The column notes that in 2010 there were 15,566 suicides, an increase of 19 percent from the previous year, and three times the average of the OECD countries. One person's death by suicide affects, the columnist says, at least 6 people. And for every suicide the conjecture is that 10 times that number have attempted suicide, and 10 times the number of attempted suicides have considered suicide. She comes up with an overall figure of about 5 percent of the population that have been directly or indirectly affected by the problem.

In New York City there are 5.5 suicides per 100,000 people, in London 9, Hong Kong 18.2, Tokyo 23, and in Seoul 26. What are we to make of these numbers? she asks. Why is New York City so low?  She believes that because of the 9/11 terror attack, New Yorkers have become more sensitive to the needs of fellow citizens and this concern has spread throughout the city. And the city government has also helped by setting up a city-wide aid system.

In Korea the older the person the more likely the suicide. For those over seventy, the rate of suicides per 100,000 is over 100. In all age categories, the men have a higher suicide rate than the women, except for men in their twenties, where it's the same as it is for the women. The reasons generally given for the country's high suicide rates are many, but usually include the increasing divorce rate, childless marriages, the number of those living alone in the country, the lack of family time together, and an insensitivity for those unable to thrive in our competitive society, because of age or lack of skills.

The columnist believes the main reasons for suicides are 'being alone', being out of work, the loss of a loved one, a mental trauma, dependence on alcohol, and despondency--perhaps the most important factor contributing to the high rate of suicides. Many with serious diseases are also vulnerable to suicidal thoughts when a feeling of helplessness takes over. 


What may be needed to prevent suicides, the columnist suggests, may be no more complicated than for each of us to become more compassionate, more sensitive and empathetic to the suffering experienced by many in our society. When these problems arise we need to provide opportunities for those who are struggling by offering them ongoing assistance until they can help themselves. And the mass media should do their part by publicizing the available programs, such as the Gatekeeper program, which intends to make us more sensitive to those who are struggling to make it in our society. But even without these worthwhile programs, we must remember that all of us have a mission to further the culture of life and to bring hope to those who have lost it.

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