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South Korea: Five-Year Mental Health Plan Aimed at Reducing Suicides Adopted

(Mar. 9, 2016) The Korean government adopted a five-year plan of comprehensive measures on mental illness, covering the years 2016-2021.  The plan promotes early detection of mental illness and obligates the government to reduce co-pays for mental health care.  The government also plans to develop a campaign to reduce prejudice against mentally ill people.  (Serving Up Worst Suicide Rate, Korean Government Adopted Mental Illness Comprehensive Measures, CHOSUNILBO (Feb. 25, 2016) (in Japanese).)

The suicide rate in South Korea is very high, according to statistics from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). (Health Status: Suicide Rates (2012), OECD website.) Observers have noted especially that “Korea ranked at the top for suicide rate [sic] among the elderly population in OECD countries.”  (Editorial: Highest Suicide Rate, KOREA HERALD (Sept. 1, 2015).) Suicide is also “the No. 1 cause of death among young adults” in Korea.  (Id.)

The Korean government has tried to reduce the number of suicides in recent years, instituting five-year plans for suicide prevention in 2004 and 2009 that expired in 2013.  (Id.)  The Korean government also adopted the Act for the Prevention of Suicide and the Creation of Culture of Respect for Life in 2011.  (Act No. 10516 (Mar. 30, 2011).)

Recently, the Psychological Autopsy Center of the Ministry of Health and Welfare released the results of psychological autopsies of 121 adults who had committed suicide in the past four years.  The result showed 88.4% of them were depressed and/or had addictions to alcohol or other substances.  Only 25.1% had received professional mental health care, while 28.1% received only a primary physician’s or herbal medicine practitioner’s care.  (Ji-won Um, 9 of 10 Suicides Show Warning Signs in Advance, HANKYOREH (Feb. 7, 2016) (in Japanese).)