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Seoul (Agenzia Fides) - "Suicide is a tragedy in our society", says Father Cho Seung-hyeon, a priest and journalist, columnist for 'CPBC Press Weekly', a printed and online weekly published by the Commission for Social Communications in the Korean Bishops' Conference.
Over the past 20 years, the nation has recorded the highest suicide rate among developed countries: according to figures from the National Bureau of Statistics, 13,000 people died because of suicide in 2021. "And in the first half of this year, more than 7,000 people committed suicide. According to the 'Korea Hope for Life Foundation', the number of suicides in the first half of this year increased by 561 compared to last year", reports Father Cho Seung-hyeon.
The phenomenon is really worrying: since 2003, South Korea has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, with about 36 people a day who put an end to their lives. While the average suicide rate in OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries has decreased by 16% since 1990, it has increased by 230% in Korea. Common factors cited by experts to explain the high suicide rate are the pressure young people face at school, the lack of social protection, and the stigma surrounding mental health problems.
The data affects Korean society as a whole on several levels: one is the disparity between rich and poor and the application of the principle of solidarity, referring to situations of poverty or loneliness, sociologists point out. Then there is an indicator that is difficult to measure: personal happiness.
The priest notes: "Situations of extreme difficulty are noted for the weaker sections of the population, while civil authorities appear to be gradually removing assistance and the safety net that protects the weakest. The budget for social services, the elderly, children, youth and the disabled, who are the vulnerable members of our society, has been drastically cut. Funds for care facilities for the elderly, the expansion of day care centres and the construction of hospitals or homes for the disabled have been drastically reduced.
Another, deeper level fully challenges the Catholic community: "There is fundamentally a structural problem in our community. We live in a society where each person survives on their own, according to a strong individualism. We have the longest working hours among OECD countries. Layoffs are gradually becoming easier, under the pretext of the economic crisis, and a social safety net is no longer even considered. There is extreme competition in society, so that no one can tolerate a single failure. The idea of being 'expelled' from a workplace means 'the end' for many. And death becomes the only landing place for those who are excluded from the competition".
This brings us to a focal point: South Korea appears as a country where the dominant cultural and social models do not think about personal happiness. South Korean culture places a strong emphasis on both conformism and competition, which, behind an external image of perfection, can generate, from an early age, stress, isolation, and deep dissatisfaction and depression.
"It is time to break the cycle of competition and conformism to create a society that values the compassion and gift that each person represents within themselves. We need to build a society that is a community of mutual love and solidarity rather than a place of endless free competition, where everyone thinks only of their own selfish survival.
And, at the political and cultural level, it is necessary to restore in citizens the hope that South Korea is a nation where everyone can simply be happy", notes Fr Cho Seung-hyeon.
The Korean Catholic Church - he concludes - with the gift of the Gospel, the 'Good News' of God's love, wants to contribute to give meaning to the existence of each person, especially to his or her deepest happiness, which springs from loving and being loved, and from a foundation of trust in the God of love. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 22/9/2023)