The Korea Herald


Highest suicide rate in the developed world

By 김경호

Published : July 19, 2011 - 20:29

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Alarm bells are ringing loudly over the rapidly growing number of suicides among aged Koreans.

Figures from Statistics Korea show the number of suicides per 100,000 people aged 65 or over increased 5.38 times from 14.3 in 1990 to 77 in 2009. In comparison, the figures for age groups of 15-34 years and 35-64 years rose by 2.49 times and 3.41 times to 23.2 and 35.9, respectively, over the same period.

In 2009, people aged 65 or older accounted for 11 percent of the total population but their share of suicides exceeded 32 percent.

South Korea has been far ahead of other member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in suicide tallies, with the rate of suicides per 100,000 persons aged 65-74 reaching 81.8 in 2005, compared to the OECD average of 16.3.

Experts note an increasing number of elderly Koreans are being driven into corner as they become economically incompetent with no one to rely on amid the rapid dissolution of families. Unless effective measures are taken, they warn, suicides among elderly people would reach a catastrophic level as a larger number of Koreans, including most of about 7.2 million baby boomers born between 1955 and 1963, are aging without having properly prepared for their later life.

According to state figures, the ratio of elderly people aged 65 or above, which climbed from 7 percent in 2000 to 11 percent in 2009, is estimated to exceed 14 percent by 2018.

Lee Myung-kun, a consultant at the Korean Senior Citizens Association, indicates persons living alone are exposed to higher possibility of committing suicide. “Old people who feel deserted by their family members, in particular, come under more stress, which might lead them to an extreme choice,” he said.

By Kim Kyung-ho (