January 5, 2024
SEOUL – Despite an overall decline in the number of suicides in South Korea, more than 43,000 people visited emergency rooms nationwide in 2022 for reasons related to suicide attempts and self-harm, a report showed Wednesday.
Out of 7.7 million emergency room visits recorded nationwide in 2022, 43,269 were related to self-harm and suicide attempts, according to a report published by the National Medical Center and the National Emergency Medical Center.
The figure represented a slight increase from 42,968 in 2019, despite a decline of about 7 percent in the overall number of suicides over the same period.
Women accounted for the majority of emergency room visits, among which 27,593 visits were related to suicide.
In particular, the study found that 7,540 visits related to suicidal ideation and self-harm involved teenagers, while 20-somethings accounted for 12,432 visits, equivalent to nearly 46 percent of the total.
The report also showed a disproportionate increase in the number of young adults and teenagers engaging in self-harm and suicidal behavior.
The number of suicide and self-harm attempts among teenagers jumped from 95 cases per 100,000 people in 2018 to 160.5 cases in 2022, up 68.9 percent over a period of five years. For those in their 20s, there was an increase from 127.6 cases to 190.9 cases over the same period.
The study pointed out that the observed increases might have been driven by a range of factors, including difficulties in finding employment due to the economic downturn and depression triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, among other factors.
To tackle mental health issues and the high suicide rate, the government rolled out a comprehensive plan in December to offer mental health checkups every two years for young Koreans aged 20 to 34, as well as other counseling services tailored to all age groups.
As part of the program, the Education Ministry on Wednesday said it would introduce a screening system to identify at-risk students at all elementary, middle and high schools starting in March to coincide with the start of the new semester. The ministry also said it plans to help students struggling with mental health find a path to recovery by teaming up with related institutions.
The ministry added that it would come up with a program aimed at helping students nurture positive attitudes and manage their emotions this year. It said it plans to launch a pilot operation for the program in 2025.
Korea has recorded the highest suicide rate among member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development for almost 20 years, with 25.2 deaths per 100,000 people recorded in 2022. The figure is more than double the OECD average of 10.6 deaths per 100,000 people, according to data released by the OECD in September.
In addition, nearly 40,000 South Koreans took their own lives over the past three years, with the suicide rate increasing among younger people, according to data from the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency submitted to Rep. Baek Jong-hean of the ruling People Power Party in October.
If you’re thinking about self-harm or suicide, contact the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s helpline 1393, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.