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Elderly men at highest risk for suicide: study

Men had double the suicide rate than women in Korea in 2013, with elderly men especially at risk, a study revealed.

Just over 10,000 men committed suicide in 2013, compared to just over 4,300 women. This means 39.8 per 100,000 men and 17.3 per 100,000 women committed suicide that year, according to a recent study published by the Korea Institute of Criminology.

Korea has one of the highest suicide rates among OECD countries, with 29.1 Koreans per 100,000 people taking their own lives, compared to the OECD average of 12.1.

The reasons why men ― and particularly older men ― are at the highest risk for suicide are complex and still being researched, but it can include loss of social status and economic power, and a sense of isolation, said Bark Hyung-min, a research fellow at KIC who led the study.

One of the major factors behind the high suicide rate among Korean men could be the traditional gender role that has long expected men to financially support their families, he said.

“When Korean middle-aged men get older, fall ill and lose their control of family assets, they become more vulnerable, which might lead to suicide,” Bark told The Korea Herald.

The most vulnerable group to suicide were male seniors aged over 80, with 168.9 deaths per 100,000. The suicide rate for those in their 70s and 60s was also much higher than other age groups, at 110.4 and 64.6 per 100,000, respectively.

Researcher Bark found two types of Korean elderly males who commit suicide: those who do not want to burden their children and those who grow estranged from their families as they get older.

Defying the general pattern that suicide rates are higher for young people than the elderly, Korea saw a rare increase in the number of suicides as men got older, Bark noted.

“The socioeconomic burden on Korean seniors seems to be greater than in other countries. The government should invest more resources in expanding welfare for the elderly to tackle the nation’s high suicide rates.”

By Ock Hyun-ju (laeticia.ock@heraldcorp.com)
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