Tuesday, May 19, 2009

How to stop suicide in its tracks

'Among OECD countries the no. 1 for suicide is Korea'

The Korea Times tells us that
Keywords "suicide methods'' and other words related to suicide will be, in principle, banned from input for online communities, blogs and other communal cyber spaces, the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs said Monday.To counter growing group suicides in the nation, the ministry will join hands with police, telecommunication authorities, civic groups and portals to ban keywords related to suicide and block access to Web sites.

Among the banned words are "suicide,'' "suicide methods,'' "group suicide,'' and other terms pertaining to suicide. Postings containing information about suicide will be deleted and the operators of online cafes on the subject could be prosecuted. The prosecution recently arrested a Web site operator of an online suicide information cafe.

Rental car dealers, charcoal brisket sellers as well as hotel and inn managers are encouraged to report any "suspicious groups of people'' they notice to local police. Those who report such activities will be rewarded. Newspapers and other media outlets are also requested to "refrain from describing the methods and locations of sites'' to prevent further copycat suicides.
One wonders what will happen to the suspected suicidal people who are reported to the police. While this may be just another example of the government controlling information on the internet (for citizens' own good, of course), my first thought was that this plan would likely be a lot cheaper than building screen doors on every subway platform in Korea to prevent the many suicides that occur there. Originally, every station in Seoul was to have screen doors by 2011. At that time we were told that "A total of 65 people committed suicide at metro stations [in 2007], when only 39 stations in Seoul, or 15 percent, had the protective system installed." As of earlier this month, the plan is now for all stations to have screen doors by the end of 2009:
So far, the doors have been installed at 92 stations in total, but installations at the remaining 173 stations have been delayed for budgetary reasons.[...]

"We received the approval to use a supplementary budget from the National Assembly last month,'' the city said in a statement. "The installations at all Seoul subway stations will be completed by the end of the year, a year earlier than the original target of December 2010.''

According to Seoul Metro, 272 people fell on the subway tracks in the capital between January 2004 and August 2008 ― 172 being killed after being hit by a train. Of them, 239 were attempts at suicide, while the others were accidents.
One wonders whether they were true accidents, like this one, or whether they were "accidents," like the one mention in this letter to the editor, in which the author writes:
The train-track jumper sacrifices himself in front of hordes of people because he wants to leave a message. And I’m pretty sure that message is not: “Put more doors on subway platforms”.
Again, I'm left wondering just what systems will be in place to treat those who are reported to police for seeming suicidal. If that part of the solution hasn't been developed, there is, I think, merit in both placing the screen doors in the subway stations (Kushibo makes a good case here), as well as in trying, if not to ban the word 'suicide' (a new one will take its place), then at least stopping the media from reporting on it so much. Note that in my previous posts about suicide, there was no problem at all to find videos of people killing themselves - something that really isn't necessary. I remember in high school being told that the media in Toronto never reported on subway suicides in order not to encourage them. This comment touches on this:
It's not that stories of subway or bridge suicide are specifically avoided in the media, suicide stories (except 'suicide-by-cop' or 'murder-suicide') simply aren't covered, period. Suicide is a major buzzkill and there appears to be a tacit agreement on the part of city desk editors to avoid suicide stories as much as possible. There may be some pressure from emergency services and law enforcement to that end as well.
Perhaps that's what's going to begin here as well. Of course, you have to ask yourself why reporting on suicide is so common here as compared to Canada (if the above comment is correct). It's not something I've really thought about before. Does anyone else have any ideas?

Finally, this article is interesting:
The country's three largest life insurers ― Samsung, Kyobo and Korea Life ― said Sunday that they paid 192.4 billion won in death benefits for suicides in fiscal year 2008 up 9.8 percent from the previous year. The number of such insurance claims also rose 4.9 percent to 1,685 cases in the one-year period from April 2008 to March 2009.[...]

Life insurers mostly adopt a two-year rule ― they don't pay death benefits if an insured person kills themselves within two years after signing up for a policy ― as a means to discourage suicides, but after this period they are required to payout for suicides just like any other death.
I imagined life insurance companies would never pay out after a suicide, but I was wrong. I was curious what percentage of people were insured when they died, and this article says that "The National Police Agency recorded 14,011 suicides by South Koreans in 2005." The article notes that the founder of the Korean Association for Suicide Prevention* "said he recently won agreements from Internet search engines to link the keyword "suicide" with centers providing counseling, instead of sending the people to sites that would help them devise ways to kill themselves." If ways were found around blocked keywords then, I really have to wonder how useful this new plan is. As always, fostering positive attitudes in regard to mental health and treatment would be far more useful than continuously hiding the keys to the proverbial gun cabinet.

*More comments from the president of the Korean Association for Suicide Prevention can be found here. What I found interesting was this comment:
What has changed most, Hong says, is family structure. Before the economic miracle, multiple generations lived together in one home. Now, a South Korean household might consist of only three or four people.

"What that means is that the social support system has changed," he said. "Previously [it was] very close-knit family, mutually dependent, helping each other. Now it's very independent, small family, and when things happen you have very little support from other people."
This reminds me of the mother of a large family from the countryside who traded places with a city mom for one week on a TV show, and her observations, which I wrote about here:
“This week, I learned that families in the city respect each other’s world. Each and every person has their own thing going on and they rarely interrupt other people’s private space. In the long run I believe such a lifestyle would end up deepening isolation and loneliness.”


Stray Blog said...

I think Korea has found itself in a bit of a vicious cycle. Because it's becoming known as the suicide capital of the modern world, each and every new occurence becomes news. And research shows that the more suicide appears on the front page, the more it appears in society.
To get suicide off of the front page, Korea has got to lock down on the entertainment industry's corruption to try and prevent celebrity suicides.

Anonymous said...

Can you link to the statistics or other reports that show that Korea has the highest suicide rate in the OECD? I have a running argument with my husband about this but I can never find proof. (If the stats are not online do you know where I else I could look offline?).

(And yes, I know this is a morbid argument to be having!)

matt said...

Stray Blog:
Unfortunately, corruption is not going to go away any time soon.

There's a link to a news report about Korea's place in the OECD scheme of things here.

Anonymous said...

Banning the word 'suicide' from internet searches?

That's not gonna solve anything. In fact, it might make it harder for people who suffer from depression to find the help and support they need.

nb said...

The problem is that this is such a bleak place to live. Parks and open spaces are replaced by dog box apartments. Koreans work six days a week and at least Monday through Friday 7 am to 10pm. Everyone hates everyone, except Koreans all love Korea. They make suicide a national sport. If they are going to kill themselves, suicide doors in subways will not stop them; they will just go somewhere else and kill themselves.

Mark Russell said...

> Parks and open spaces are replaced
> by dog box apartments. Koreans work
> six days a week and at least Monday
> through Friday 7 am to 10pm.

Uh, while I detest Korea's endless, ugly apartment buildings as much as anyone, I don't think it is fair to say that parks and open spaces are being replaced by apartments. From all I have seen, there are more parks and opens spaces now than 10 years ago, and plenty of plans to create more such spaces.

That said, Seoul definitely needs a lot more trees and parks.

As for work, five days a week is pretty standard now, at least in offices. And 7am-10pm is pretty much gone, too. Koreans still work too long, but nowhere near like they used to.

nb said...

These work hours are firm for most workers in my office, and many others. In 'developing' their country, they distroyed nearly all the wildlife (and by eating it), paved over everything, and while their are more parks, there is a definite dearth in comparison to other cities. The all want to live in souless projects void of plants and trees. When was the last time you smelled freshly cut grass? Why is there no grass at schools? Depressing for the kids. Stay inside and study like a slave, then go outside and play in the dirt, then go inside and get beaten or molested or bullied.

Anonymous said...

Wow, did this post suddenly became a lot more significant...

kushibo said...

nb, you're projecting. It seems your life is miserable for the reasons you state and you assume "everyone" else is miserable for the same reasons.

While Korea's cities are in need of more parks and open spaces, they are working on that at a fast clip.

What makes Korea so bleak for some people is the intense competition, the narrow margin of success, and the feeling of utter hopelessness if one fails to achieve.

All the green space in the world won't solve those problems.