Did you know that in 2019, one person died from suicide every 40 seconds? Follow the math through and almost 800,000 people died last year from suicide. In 2020, it is estimated that there will be one suicide every 20 seconds. Roughly 1.6 million people are projected to die by suicide this year. Take a second to wrap your head around that.
Suicide is among the three leading causes of death globally in people aged 15-44. In the U.S alone, a nation much more open about mental health issues, suicide is the eleventh leading cause of death and the third leading cause in people ages 15-24. With these numbers, the United States is currently ranked 27th in global suicide rates in 2020. So what does that mean for Asia whose major countries still stigmatize and shame mental health illnesses?
Let’s start with South Korea. Ranked 4th globally, South Korea has just under 14,000 people commit suicide yearly. At a suicide rate of 26.9%, the only Asian nation to eclipse them is Russia at a startling 31%. In Seoul, Mapo Bridge is known as “The Bridge of Death” or “Suicide Bridge” for the sheer number of suicide attempts it sees. Between 2007 and 2012, there were more than a hundred attempted suicides.
You may be wondering what contributes to such a high suicide rate. One factor is the gradual collapse of familial obligation the younger generations feel for their elderly predecessors. Traditionally, aging parents were taken care of by their children but this practice has slowly started to fade out of existence and has led to increased suicide rates in the elderly. Students also contribute a high percentage of the suicide rate due to extremely high expectations of academic success placed on them by their family. When those aspirations are not met, students feel they have brought dishonor to their families and they take their life to make up for it.
Next we’ll check in with Japan. You all remember Logan Paul’s distasteful 2018 video of Japan’s “Suicide Forest”, also known as Aokigahara Forest and Jukai, “The Sea of Trees”, but what do the statistics look like? Japan is ranked 14th and has a suicide rate of 18.5%. Suicide is the leading cause of death in men aged 20-44 and for women aged 15-34 and claims the lives of 24,000 people every year.
Japan has something that I call a ‘Suicide Culture’. Historically, suicide has been considered an honorable way to die and a point of pride to the family. Samurai warlords would engage in harakiri, or seppuku, on the battlefield in order to die with honor instead of fall into enemy hands and likely meet a gruesome end. In the 1940’s, a kamikaze pilot’s greatest honor was to send their plane into Allied warships and die in the process. Military suicide still existed so far as a few decades ago and was seen as the preferable way to die instead of surrendering to your enemy.
Japanese men are also more likely to commit suicide than women. Men who have recently lost their job may feel that they have dishonored themselves because they can no longer provide for their families. Many older adults also end up taking their lives after they’ve retired because they feel as if they can no longer contribute and do not want to be a burden on their families.
India and China account for over a quarter of global suicides. Ranking 21st and 69th respectively, 360,000 people take their on life annually. Chinese women are more likely to commit suicide due to societal pressures. Though women have gained more independence over the years, they are likely to be discharged much quicker because they feel they must return to their responsibilities as soon as possible whether they are ready or not. Most insurances do not cover hospital stays for attempted suicide and the strain this causes on women oftentimes contributes to the high suicide rate.
Jauhar was a major part of India’s cultural for the longest time, especially during wartime. This was the practice of suicide when facing an imminent defeat so the women would avoid capture, enslavement and rape by the invaders. Jauhar originated from the practice of sati, or widow burning. During sati, women would throw themselves, their children, and their valuables into a massive fire to avoid any potential for capture by the invading forces. Even though sati has been outlawed by the government, cases still occur due to the jauhar sati ritual being glorified and honored to this day.
Now let’s recap: Every year, close to 14,000 people commit suicide in South Korea, 24,000 people in Japan, and 360,000 people between India and China. That’s 398,00 people in total just in those 4 Asian countries. 2019 saw almost 800,000 people dead from suicide worldwide. 49.75% of that number came from South Korea, Japan, India, and China.
Still think we don’t have a problem?