One of the Korean government ministers in an interview with the Catholic Peace Weekly gives the readers of the paper his ideas on suicide. In one year, 13 thousand commit suicide. This is about 36 a day and the highest of the OECD countries. For the last 13 years, Korea has not been able to rid itself of this disgrace. The government is taking steps to change this. Government, religions and civic organizations are working together to lower the numbers.
Unemployment and the inequality of income in society has a big influence on the numbers. Compared to other countries the inequality of income is large and affects the situation greatly. Structures of society are another aspect. Culture has changed: family bonds are weak, mental problems are hidden, and the embarrassment in asking for help are all reasons for the numbers.
Plans are to educate a million of the citizens to become Gatekeepers within society. They will be on the lookout for citizens who are having difficulty in life. Communication and presence with those in difficulty will help to make sense of their situation. Also with those who have attempted suicide efforts in accompaniment will be present. Celebrities who commit suicide have copy cat followers; efforts to give psychological help to those in high-stress occupations will be initiated.
Gatekeeper programs refer to programs that sensitize people to the warning signs of those contemplating suicide. Gatekeepers will be given tools on how to listen, be empathetic and know how to refer them to others if necessary.
The government is not able to do it alone and needs the help of all society. Religious elements in society are an important part of this effort. Catholics, Protestants, and Buddhists have been involved in the movement for some time. Plans are being made to set up a policy council that will help coordinate the work and determine the strategy.
The government has set a goal of reducing the numbers of suicides by 30 percent by 2022. Criticism is heard for desiring to attempt such a large reduction, says the minister, but after examining the situation, he feels it's an obtainable goal. The government needs the help of society, if this is to be achieved. This is not only the ministry of Health and Welfare but the other branches of society working together that will bring about change.
Korea is a country with a great deal of stress. Many vividly remember the financial crisis of 1997 where many were hurt deeply: lost their jobs, their business and lived with great stress. The IMF and other institutions helped in the recovery but the memory and fear of it happening again is present. The North-South division, competition, stress of society, found also in the years of schooling are all areas that need to change. Hesitation to ask for help when overcome with problems is present in many other societies but thoughts of dishonor to the family may be greater in Korea.