The prospect of a developed, wealthy nation with one of the highest suicide rates in the world seems like a stretch for some. In reality, the Republic of Korea, aka South Korea, is said country. It has the highest suicide rate among all OECD countries. A country raised from ashes after the Korean War, now has the reputation of having one of the highest suicide rates in the world. In all, the Korean elderly have the highest suicide rate, but teen suicide has been on the rise lately. The reason for the increasing number of teen suicides in South Korea is the toxic combination of beauty standards, the pressure to excel in school, and conservative ideology.
Beauty standards are different around the world; however, East Asia has strong ideals for women, more than they do for men. The ideals for women in South Korea is long black hair, a small face, double eyelids, a tall nose bridge, pale skin, and a slender body shape. Of course, not everybody is going to fit this mold. The pressure to look like celebrities has always been around, but lately, idols have released their diets, and now many people follow them. For instance, a trend from last year was to follow the paper cup diet which was very unhealthy: “ The average woman should eat between 1600-2000 calories a day. The paper cup diet encourages the person to eat half of that. For example, 9 ounces of rice is less than 350 calories” (Domzalsk, Tessa. “The Paper Cup Diet Is a Dangerous Fad in Korea That Needs to Be Addressed.” spoonuniversity.com). Some women may start with this extreme type of diet, which can lead to mental disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia. With these thoughts in mind, women and men could have suicidal thoughts if they were truly unhappy with how they look. Some people may compare themselves with K-Pop idols and their bodies, when in reality, they follow a strict workout regimen and have diets that are usually only for photo shoots. Comparing oneself to a celebrity or trying unhealthy ways to lose weight could lead Korean teens to a long road of destruction, and if the problem isn’t intercepted in time, suicide.
Asia as a whole, is known for their academic scores across the world. With averages in test scores that beat the rest of the world, they take education very seriously. In Korea, an average high school-day is “. . . from about 8am until 9:30pm or 10pm” (MyCrazyKimchi http://crazykimchi.blogspot.com/ Between teaching ESL and navigating the workplace and forging a new lifestyle in Korea. “10 Shocking Facts about Korean Schools.” ). The reason class ends at nighttime is due to the fact that most kids stay after-school to study. There is also the option of sending kids to a ?? (hagwon) – these are private after-school tutoring centers that help children excel in certain subjects, such as English. These are more popular to send children to, as opposed to keeping them at school. Parents would go the extra mile to ensure that their children will be able to attend a prestigious university. All high school students have to take a university exam called the, or the “College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT, or more commonly, the suneung)” (Bard, Abigail. “Suneung.” Samson Agonistes: Introduction). This exam determines the future of Korean students; “The examination is the sole factor in determining whether a student will be admitted to most universities. When students fail, they have to wait a full year before applying to another university and taking the examination again. If they fail the second time, there is no third chance” (DuBois,69). If a student fails once, they wouldn’t hear the end of it from their parents, and cause stress and insecurity. They think their self-worth is a test score, and if they do bad, they may deem themselves as failures. Leading up to the big exam however, is 3 years of hard work. According to the article “Student Suicides in South Korea,” “The suffocating pressure of schoolwork is blamed as a big factor in pushing the students to end their lives.” Yet again in the book Korea by Jill DuBois, “The pressure to excel academically is so great that some high-school students commit suicide because of poor scholastic results.” The fact that a book meant for quick facts about South Korea mentions the issue of teens committing suicide due to pressure from school, says that there is an issue with the system. Teens hardly have any time to for a break, have to constantly keep up with their school work and grades, and can’t have a deep breath. The pressure becomes too much for some, and therefore, think the only way they can escape the stress is by ending their own life. In a first world country, one would think that an issue such as a rigorous, potentially toxic form of education would be addressed, but this system is still up and running, with no end of suicides to come.
South Korea is one of the main countries in which Confucianism was practiced. Confucianism is most known for the idea of filial piety, the strong ideals for women to be subordinate to men, and emphasis on education. Along the years, it has been embedded with cultural norms today. As a matter of fact, Christianity is among one of the most practiced religions in South Korea. Confucianism, however, works alongside the idea that most Asian societies follow, which is a group mindset. This is quite the stark contrast compared to Western ideology, which is the individual mindset. In Asia, once someone appears to be different from the group, they’re shunded. There is also the issue of most Koreans not being supportive of the LGBTQ+ community. According to the article “How Gay-Friendly is South Korea?,” “There has never been laws against same-sex activity in Korea . . . but being gay is still culturally taboo.” A majority of queer people are still closeted, and those who come out are often encouraged to undergo conversion therapy.” If a teen who is a part of the LGBTQ+ community, and they come out to their parents, there’s the threat that they won’t except them, and disown them. This could lead the teen in a spiral of self-hate and questioning if they’re a burden to their parents. Gay teens are at high risk for suicide, even more so in Korea due to the fact that most Koreans, especially the older generations, aren’t supportive of the community. In fact, “Newer studies have provided consistent evidence of unusually high rates of attempted suicide among gay youth, in the range of 20-30 percent, regardless of geographic and ethnic variability” (Espejo, 53). With such a high number, one would think the government would do something about it, but the issue still stands with gay rights not being protected. In the video “What Koreans Think about Gay / Lesbian (Homosexuality),” two women were interviewed about their views on gay marriage, they supported it but, they said “. . . because of the way our society sees it (gay marriage), it’s hard to say anything on the topic.” Supporters acknowledge the difficulty the LGBTQ+ youths face in their culture. It doesn’t end here with conservative ideology. If someone has a mental illness, he or she is looked down upon or the issue is just ignored altogether. In Korean society, as in most Asian societies in general, depression and mental illness are “not seen as a clinical issue in Korea. It is, rather, seen as a burden on a family’s reputation” (Juergens, Chris. “’In Korea, There Is No Mental Health’: Barriers to Treatment.”). It may seem comical, but the honoring of one’s family name is still around. Some teens have to consider the pressure of dishonoring the family name, and keep their mental illness under wraps. This is certainly no good way to look after one’s mental health. If teens bottle up their thoughts and emotions for the sake of a family name and not wanting to embarrass the family, it would lead to suicidal thoughts if the disorder is bad enough.
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