Korea requires all students to receive suicide prevention education
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Korea requires all students to receive suicide prevention education

Korea requires all students to receive suicide prevention education

This September 10, 2023, photo shows a statue of a man comforting another person, erected on the Mapo Bridge in Seoul to prevent suicide attempts. The Cabinet approved an amendment to an executive order on Tuesday that mandates annual suicide prevention education for all elementary, middle and high school students, as well as employees of public institutions. Yonhap

Experts expect the new measures to save many lives

By Jung Min-ho

All elementary, middle and high school students and employees of public institutions in Korea are now required to attend annual suicide prevention training. It is part of the government’s intensified efforts to combat suicide, a leading cause of death among young Koreans, according to a statement from the Ministry of Health and Welfare on Tuesday.

The Cabinet approved a revised executive order of the relevant law, requiring students, as well as employees of state institutions and hospitals, to undergo training in the prevention of self-harm. This new requirement will go into effect this Friday.

Under the new rule, administrators at these organizations must create a self-harm prevention training program and offer it at least once a year to students and staff, either in person or online. They are also required to report the results to the health department or other cabinet-level departments.

Higher education institutions and private enterprises employing at least 30 employees were also recommended to participate in the campaign and use government funds.

The training programme consists of two main components. The first part aims to educate participants about the nature of suicide, including the factors that contribute to poor mental health and strategies to overcome such conditions. The second part provides practical guidance on supporting people at high risk of suicide, including recognising warning signs and effective response strategies.

The policy is part of a broader government effort to reduce the country’s suicide rate from 25.2 per 100,000 people to the OECD average of 10.6 over the next 10 years.

Since 2003, Korea has consistently had the highest suicide rate among the 34 OECD countries. Nearly 7,000 people took their own lives in Korea from January to June 2023, an 8.8% increase from the previous year, according to the Korea Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Students promote a hotline number for people suffering from depression during a suicide prevention campaign at Cheonggye Plaza in central Seoul, in this photo taken September 13, 2023. Korea Times photo by Kim Ye-won

Students promote a hotline number for people suffering from depression during a suicide prevention campaign at Cheonggye Plaza in central Seoul, in this photo taken September 13, 2023. Korea Times photo by Kim Ye-won

It is a particularly serious problem among young people. A report published last month by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family found that the suicide rate per 100,000 people aged nine to 24 was 10.8, by far the most common cause of death, compared with accidents (3.9) and cancer (2.5).

“I hope the culture of respect for life will spread further through the suicide prevention program,” said Lee Young-hoon, a senior official at the ministry’s metal health department. “The practical guidelines on how to seek help and how to provide assistance to those at high risk of suicide are intended to help strengthen the life-saving safety net in society.”

Youth education experts expressed support for the new policy.

A youth adviser at a state youth advocacy organization in southern Seoul told The Korea Times that such a change could potentially save many lives.

“More than half of the people I’ve talked to over the years have reported having thoughts of suicide or attempted suicide,” she said. “I think educational programs like this, if done properly, will save a lot of lives.”