In 2018, Jang Jun-ha discovered his 35-year-old brother, Jun-an, lifeless in his apartment in Seoul, South Korea. This devastating event shattered Jang’s heart and left him questioning how he missed the signs of his brother’s suffering. Despite Jun-an’s previous suicide attempt in 2013, Jang believed that his brother was finding his way back to happiness after receiving treatment. However, Jun-an’s tragic death exposed the reality of South Korea’s high suicide rates, which continue to be a significant issue in the country.
South Korea, known for its thriving K-pop industry and global companies like Samsung, faces a hidden crisis behind its outward success. With an average of over 35 suicides per day, suicide is the leading cause of death among individuals aged 10 to 39 in the country. The cultural stigma surrounding suicide makes it difficult for individuals like Jang to openly discuss their experiences. However, Jang, now a clinical psychologist, is determined to break the silence and raise awareness about suicide prevention. He has taken on the role of a suicide prevention instructor, educating children about the signs of suicidal thoughts and how to help those in need.
Jang’s family has faced numerous challenges, including financial struggles and separation, which contributed to the immense pressure Jun-an felt. The sudden termination of economic ties between North and South Korea in 2010 had a profound impact on Jang’s family. His father’s business, which relied on North Korean connections, went bankrupt, forcing the family to separate and live in different places. Jun-an, burdened with the responsibility of being the family’s “only hope,” faced immense pressure to succeed academically and financially.
Jang’s journey to becoming a suicide prevention instructor was motivated by his family’s high risk of suicide. He hoped that by helping others, he could make a positive impact on society and prevent others from experiencing the pain his family endured. However, it wasn’t until he found his brother’s medical records after Jun-an’s death that Jang realized the extent of his brother’s ongoing struggle with depression.
South Korea’s suicide rate, at 25.2 deaths per 100,000 people, is the highest among the 38-member Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). To address this crisis, the South Korean government introduced a five-year plan in 2022 aimed at reducing the suicide rate by 30%. The plan includes initiatives such as regular mental health check-ups, increased support for vulnerable individuals, better moderation of harmful online content, and a rapid reporting system for such content. However, experts caution that addressing the country’s suicide problem requires more than just financial resources. South Korea’s suicide rate is influenced by a combination of economic, social, and cultural factors, including a society built on high levels of competition and success.
While South Korea’s suicide prevention budget remains comparatively small, the country’s culture is slowly changing. The emphasis on success, particularly in terms of wealth and social status, is gradually being challenged. Mental health organizations and helplines, like LifeLine Seoseoul, are working to create safe spaces where individuals can express their struggles and feelings freely. Jang, in his role as a clinical psychologist, provides support to families affected by suicide and individuals battling suicidal thoughts. Through his work, Jang has witnessed the healing power of support and understanding.
In conclusion, South Korea’s high suicide rates pose a significant challenge for the country. The personal experience of individuals like Jang Jun-ha highlights the urgent need for increased awareness and support. As the government implements its suicide prevention plan, it is crucial to address the underlying cultural and societal factors contributing to the crisis. By fostering a society that values well-being and provides strong support systems, South Korea can work towards reducing its alarming suicide rates and offering hope to those in need.