According to research by the department of Family Medicine at Hallym University, some 60 percent of people who attempt suicide are suffering from depression. Yet too many people in South Korea have outdated views of psychological illness. Many think that when someone is suicidal he simply lacks a strong will to live; he’s weak. There’s little sympathy or interest in probing below the surface.
And it’s not easy to get therapy for depression in South Korea, where there is still strong societal resistance to psychological treatment. Kim Eo-su, a professor of psychiatry at Yonsei Severance Hospital, told me: “One out of three depression patients stops mid-treatment. One of the biggest issues is that many patients think they can overcome depression on their own through a religious life or through exercise.”
Many people who seek psychiatric treatment are afraid of doctors keeping records. There was a rumor going around recently among married women that having a record of treatment or medication for depression could mean losing custody of your children if your husband were ever to sue for divorce.
Satisfactory explanations for the root causes of the epidemic are hard to come by. For the elderly, many analysts cite the breakdown of the traditional family unit, and the poor economy. Among the youth, the pressure over college entrance examinations is often blamed. And for the middle-aged, it’s uncertainty about the economy. But no matter what the age, too many South Koreans see suicide as a viable escape from the stresses of modern life. That attitude has to change.
— South Korea’s Struggle With Suicide, by Young-Ha Kim; April 2, 2014