Some 40,000 people took their own lives over the three years of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the suicide rate increasing among the younger generation, data showed Wednesday.
A total of 39,453 people died from suicide from 2020 to 2022, according to data from the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, Rep. Baek Jong-hean of the ruling People Power Party said in a release.
The release highlighted that the number of deaths by suicide was higher than the 32,156 deaths caused by COVID-19, including those due to respiratory failure caused by the coronavirus, and the combination of COVID-19 and other underlying diseases, recorded over the same period.
The suicide rate, the number of suicides for every 100,000 South Koreans, has slightly decreased over the past five years to 25.2 in 2022, but the suicide rate of teenagers and those in their 20s has been increasing.
The teenage suicide rate rose from 5.8 in 2018 to 7.2 in 2022, while the rate for those in their 20s rose from 17.6 to 21.4 over the same period.
Furthermore, the number of suicide attempts also surged. Last year, there were 36,754 emergency room visits due to self-harm or suicide attempts, up 68 percent from 21,875 in 2012, according to the data.
The rise in suicide rates during the COVID-19 pandemic has been observed globally. The increasing rates during the pandemic could point to the return of old stressors suppressed by the unusual circumstances of lockdowns and remote schooling and work, including social media, said a report from the US National Center for Health Statistics that tracks suicide rates in the US.
Korea has the highest suicide rate among the 34 surveyed Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development member nations and it has held the top position since 2003.
"The government should declare suicide as a national disaster and put in all-out efforts to fight it," said Baek, who is also a member of the National Assembly's Health and Welfare Committee.
If you’re thinking about self-harm or suicide, contact the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s helpline on 1393, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Please request a translator for English-language services.