Suicide=Escape in South Korea


South Korea is the second country in the world with the highest suicide rate. Certainly this is not something to be proud of. I’ve been discussing the issue with my friends since hearing the news about one of the country’s best actresses Choi Jin-Sil a few years back, but it wasn’t until recently that I’ve seriously started researching about some of the contributing factors that might lead individuals, public figures more often, into taking their own lives.

Life is truly precious and should be valued. However, often times there are people who’ve lost hope and the desire to live. The pain becomes too difficult to bear and so they feel suicide is their final resort, a sort of escape or relieve from their suffering. Whenever I hear another person has passed on in such a manor, I think to myself “did they seek help?” But then I place myself in their shoes and arrived to the conclusion that maybe they felt no one could or would help them. This led me to the first contributing factor of suicide: the shame society.

A shame society creates the expectation of punishment when a behavior fails to be kept secret. It’s a way in which individuals are continually reminded of their disappointments, whether it’s failing an exam, losing your employment, or having some unpleasant past or present events. This type of societal structure is one of the strongest influences of suicide. If you evaluate the deaths of majority of the public figures, this structure is highly linked to their demise.

Roh Moo-hyun, South Korea’s 16th President, became the center of a bribery scandal and his administration was accused of incompetence. He was constantly feuding with the media and he eventually lost support from the public. Roh ended his life by jumping from a mountain cliff in May 2009. His suicide note read:

“I am in debt to so many people. I have caused too great a burden to be placed upon them. I can’t begin to fathom the countless agonies down the road. The rest of my life would only be a burden for others. I am unable to do anything because of poor health. Do not be too sad. Isn’t life and death all a part of nature? Do not be sorry. Do not feel resentment toward anyone. It is fate. Cremate me. And leave only a small tombstone near home. I’ve thought on this for a long time.”

Is it that in this country people care too much about pleasing everyone else except for themselves? Are the children taught since a young age to achieve a particular status or live a certain way to receive acceptance in their society? Then what happens when you make a mistake, or when you’re in a situation that’s considered disgraceful? Let’s evaluate “the nation’s actress” Choi Jin-shil, a woman whose personal affairs became the media’s playground. Choi was the victim of domestic abuse. Apparently, statements were made that the actress failed to maintain proper “social and moral honor” by coming forward as an abused person. Basically they’re saying she should have kept it hidden. Things didn’t get any better for her when a fellow actor and friend committed suicide in September 2008. Netizens (Korean paparazzi) started spreading rumors about Choi’s involvement in the case, stating that she was antagonizing the actor to return money she had loaned him. The actress hung herself in October 2008 leaving two children behind. Friends and family cited the media as the cause of Choi’s suicide. This lead to another factor: Netizens.

Like millions worldwide, I too am a fan of Korean entertainment. But let’s be honest here, netizens often get carried away when it comes to actively being involved with online communities and their “love” for entertainers. Celebrities have a hard time dating or having any sort of life outside of their careers. And if they start dating a “regular” person, then that love interest will experience the wrath of a deranged netizen. Fans can be quite entertaining and scary all the same. If they have the nerve to cut into their own flesh and write love letters using their blood as oppose to a pencil or pen, then I can only imagine what other drastic measures they’re willing to take. Once you’re in the public eye it’s as if you have to uphold a squeaky clean image that “must” remain spotless at all cost. There are celebrities who have been cyber-bullied for something netizens are dissatisfied with, even if it’s just a photograph that didn’t display their features in an all glamorous way. Both fans and anti-fans make mortifying comments on every single aspect of the celebrities’ lives.  And they conduct their own private investigations as well. With fans like these, who needs the paparazzi?

Now back to the topic at hand, which is the high rate of suicide in South Korea. We’ve seen how a shame society and deluded netizens can contribute to public figures and individuals alike taking their own lives, but is there anything that can be done to decrease this growing rate? In my opinion, prayer works. Also, one has to reach out for help even though it’s hard. 

What do you think are some other contributors of suicide and what can be done to help and prevent the act?

2 thoughts on “Suicide=Escape in South Korea

  1. I have always wondered why I occasionally heard about Korea actresses/actors committing suicide. It makes more sense now knowing that the suicide rate is the second highest. Fans are scary people. Especially the die hard ones. It’s as if they know everything about their idols (which is obviously not true). Fans are pretty harsh. Antis are even worse. I think the pressure of being in the spotlight and having to be aware of your every movement adds to stress levels. Sometimes the pressure of being “perfect” or acting “perfect” breaks a person.

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