Rising teen suicides require lots more counseling
The government will open 240 counseling centers across the nation as suicides by young people rise.
The suicide rate for people between the ages of nine and 24 spiked from 2017 to 2020, data from the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family showed Thursday.
In 2017, 7.7 people per 100,000 individuals in that age group committed suicide, while in 2020, that number rose to 11.1.
In the same period, suicide and self-harm attempts by people between the ages of 10 and 19 jumped 69 percent.
The Gender Ministry pointed to depression as the main cause.
Data from the National Health Insurance Service shows there were 33,536 cases of young children and teens receiving treatment for depression in 2019. That figure rose 18.9 percent in 2021 to 39,868 cases. People in that age group receiving treatment for anxiety rose 39.6 percent from 16,895 cases in 2019 to 23,590 cases in 2021.
“Suicide is the No.1 cause of death for teens,” Kim Hyun-sook, minister of gender equality and family, said in a press conference Thursday, adding that the country is in “desperate need” of specialized support for its youth.
“Psychological and emotional crises among teens such as depression and anxiety are on the rise due to the prolonged Covid-19 pandemic.”
Among numerous initiatives that the ministry will pursue from next year is a so-called counseling clinic for high-risk teens in the nation’s 240 youth counseling welfare centers.
The measure will be an expansion of several makeshift counseling clinics that have been set up over the past two years, which were effective, said the ministry.
A total of 273 teens who said they were suffering from suicidal and self-harm thoughts signed up for counseling at the clinics last year.
The ministry said it would “pre-emptively” track down young people at high risk of committing suicide by putting teens at counseling welfare centers through emotional and behavioral examinations, which are meant to spot signs of depression and anxiety.
The number of so-called cyber outreach agents who are tasked with identifying high-risk teens on social media such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook will also be increased from eight to 18, said the ministry.
Those agents will be responsible for reaching out to young people online who upload posts or photos that hint they may be thinking about committing suicide.
1388, a 24-hour online counseling service for teens, which is run by the Youth Cyber Counseling Center, will also get a boost in its workforce from the current 155 to nearly double that size.
An information-sharing system involving the Gender Ministry, the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the Ministry of Education and the National Police Agency will be established by 2024 to strengthen communication among government agencies on helping teens.
“In the past, the psychiatric ward used to only have schizophrenic patients who couldn’t control themselves,” said Shin Eui-jin, a child psychiatry doctor at the Severance Children’s Hospital in Seoul.
“Now the ward is filled with teens who attempted suicide or self-harm,” Shin continued. “I don’t think it’s a personal issue. They come after suffering from extreme pressure from their parents to study or because they were picked on at school.”
BY LEE SUNG-EUN, HWANG SOO-YEON [firstname.lastname@example.org]