‘Koreans don’t recognize suicidal signals well’

Jeong Sae-im  Published 2019.08.13  11:14  Updated 2019.08.13 14:52


Korean people have a relatively poor understanding of suicidal ideation, compared to Australians, a recent study showed.

The research team led by An Soon-tae, a professor at the Communication and Media Division of Ewha Womans University, released the comparative study on 506 people from Korea and Australia. Tegan Cruwys, a professor at the Psychology Department of the Australian National University, jointly conducted the study.

Their research was also recently presented at the 2019 International Mental Health Conference in Gold Coast, Australia.

To prevent suicide, it is important that the person with suicidal ideation expresses her difficulties. But, attention from the people around and their advice are crucial to help her overcome the suicidal crisis. However, the study showed that Koreans neither recognize signals of suicidal crises well nor give helpful recommendations.

The research team had an experiment showing 506 participants illustrations of a friend who was experiencing either subclinical distress (normal) or suicidal ideation (suicidal signal). Illustrations were sent via mobile messages. The researchers asked how much the participants were worried about the friend’s mental pain, what kind of situation the friend was in, and what kind of advice they would give.

According to the results, Australians raised more concern for the person in a suicidal crisis (4.22 points) than the one suffering from subclinical distress (3.94 points). In contrast, Koreans’ concern for the person with subclinical distress (3.89) was similar to that for the one in a suicidal crisis (3.86).

Koreans failed to make a clear distinction between usual worries and suicidal ideation. A significant number of them responded to the person with suicidal ideation by saying, “It is not a serious problem.” Most of Koreans were unaware of suicidal signals but regarded them as a personal issue or stress caused by an incident.

Korean participants were more likely to recommend passive coping strategies such as saying to the person, “You need efforts to cope with the problem,” “Time will solve everything,” and “Cheer up.” Some said things people should never say to a person in a suicidal crisis such as “Let’s have a drink and forget it.”

The research team attributed the differences in understanding about suicidal ideation between Australians and Koreans to the lack of mental health/suicide literacy education in Korea.

Australia actively provides education and public campaigns for all citizens to raise the public literacy of mental health.

According to a psychological autopsy report by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, 93.4 percent of people who killed themselves sent a crisis signal before attempting suicide, but 67 percent of their families did not understand the crisis signal until after death. Fourteen percent did not even know if there was a crisis signal.

“Passive intervention in suicidal situations can lead to irreversible consequences. There is an urgent need for literacy education to improve people’s understanding of mental health,” the Korean research team said.

The study has been published in the latest issue of the Archives of Suicide Research.

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