S. Korea outlines countermeasures to curb high suicide rates

SEOUL, - South Korea on Tuesday outlined a set of countermeasures to help curb the country's high suicide rates, the highest among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member countries.

The government will introduce an expanded mental health care program to lower the country's suicide rates from 25.2 per 100,000 people last year to the OECD members' average of 10.6 within the next 10 years, the Ministry of Health and Welfare said in a statement.

Under the program, the government will initially provide psychological counseling services to 80,000 people with mental illness next year and expand the number to 1 million by 2027, the Ministry of Health and Welfare said in a statement.

It also plans to offer mental health checkups for young generations aged 20-34 every two years to catch early signs of mental illness, such as depression and schizophrenia. Currently, such checkups are given once every 10 years.

"The government will make an aggressive investment to have people receive mental health care services anytime and anywhere, while allowing mental patients to receive the right treatment and get along with others in their communities," Health Minister Cho Kyoo-hong said.

In other efforts, the government will make suicide prevention education mandatory for the general public starting in July next year and strengthen education programs for workers at social welfare facilities for the same purpose, the statement said.

Suicide deaths in Korea rose about 9 percent on-year in the January-June period, due mainly to financial difficulties after years of the COVID-19 pandemic. A total of 6,936 people committed suicide in the first half, up 8.8 percent from a year earlier, according to the Korea Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

South Korea has the highest suicide rate among the 34 surveyed OECD member nations, and it has held the top position since 2003.

Meanwhile, to better serve patients with severe mental illness, the government will increase the number of mental health care emergency centers across the country by 2025 and begin allowing general hospitals to receive higher medical expenses for the treatment of such patients at closed wards in January, it said.

The government said it will consider whether judicial authorities will have the right to send mentally-ill people who could harm themselves or others to hospitals for public safety.

Source: Yonhap News Agency