“There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” This quote is probably my parents’ favorite because of how often they repeated it over and over. This quote shows how Korean parents put a lot of pressure on their children to succeed in school, which translates to how hard and how diligently they work. I am from South Korea and want to introduce you to a dark side of this nation whose gross domestic product (GDP) has been increasing probably the highest in 1970s and 1980s. Those decades are when my parents went through their 20s and 30s. Here in figure 1 is the GDP graph of different nations posted by the Reserved Bank of Australia (RBA) to help you make comparison South Korea and other countries.
Figure1: GDP graph posted on the RBA website; http://www.rba.gov.au/publications/bulletin/2013/dec/2.html
South Korea children are strongly expected to carry out their legacy- hard working and optimism in work ethic. Even though the numbers and ranks show Korea students’ high achievement in reading and mathematics their children seem unhappy in their competitive setting in education. South Korea is also known for the highest suicide rate in Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nation members and its rate exceeds almost three times more than the average rate of the other OECD members This problem is devastating to Korean society. “Suicide, in fact, is the leading cause of death among Koreans aged 15 to 24.” This quantitative data in figure 2 should tell something about their health. Here is the data from the annual report written by the Korea Statistics in 2013. I colored the three highest causes and translated them to English.
Figure 2: Statistical data reported from the Korea Statistics (They are color-coded as this: red- suicide, blue- road injury, and green- cancer)
In Talking about Health, Dr. Parrott gives an example of her father risking his life to attend his grandson’s wedding. Dr. Parrott’s father’s risk was due to a malfunction of the heart, which is ranked as the highest fatality rate in the United States. Despite knowing the high risk of fatalities associated with heart disease, he chose to attend his grandson’s wedding. He had to put strain on his heart through traveling, but he still wanted to see his grandson’s wedding, so as a reward for healthy living and not yield to fatal heart disease, he went. Even though we are aware of some risk factors, like heart disease, we often neglect or are unaware of risk factors of suicide. Decision making associated with risks in health tells many things about individuals and also his or her surroundings.
It seems very complicated to determine a reason for their tragic decision to commit suicide. I think we need to look closely at whether suicidal people could reason a risk factor. These two following sentences are how I understand suicide:
- If someone is physically and mentally well, he or she should not commit suicide
- There must be a reason for committing suicide.
The following are the statements quoted from helpguide.org to provide better understanding of suicide:
Suicide is a desperate attempt to escape suffering that has become unbearable. Blinded by feelings of self-loathing, hopelessness, and isolation, a suicidal person can’t see any way of finding relief except through death. But despite their desire for the pain to stop, most suicidal people are deeply conflicted about ending their own lives. They wish there was an alternative to committing suicide, but they just can’t see one.
Many Koreans between their 10s to 30s feel pressured from high expectations and tend to interpret poor achievement in education as economic doom in the future. One survey says the main reason people think about suicide is poor achievement in educationIt is very difficult to answer how to lower the suicide rates in South Korea. The Korean government has tried different policies in education, but it seems to have failed as they kept the highest suicide rates among OECD members for more than 7 years
It is also a major dilemma in public service because public health or public education should focus on the majority. It is also a lot harder to analyze the cause because its risk factors are intangible and complicated by economic and cultural backgrounds. Teenagers might be impetuous, but how much risk is enough for them to move on and achieve graduation? However, the government should care about their mental well-being. Imagine how you would feel, if your classmate committed suicide for any reason. Statistically speaking, that is very possible if you live in the world where approximately one person commits suicide every 37 minutes. South Korean government should legalize public schools to have a number of counselors for a certain number of students to protect teenager mental well-being and to provide academic or career guideline for their future.
- An article posted on Voices of Youth, http://www.voicesofyouth.org/fr/posts/student-suicides-in-south-korea
- A blog posted on nonprofit organization in Korea, http://www.opengirok.or.kr/2961
- Statistical data from the Korea Statistics (as part of a government body); Figure2; http://kostat.go.kr/portal/korea/kor_nw/2/1/index.board?bmode=download&bSeq=&aSeq=330181&ord=1
- Understanding and preventing suicide, information provided by nonprofit organization, helpguide.org http://www.helpguide.org/articles/suicide-prevention/suicide-prevention-helping-someone-who-is-suicidal.htm