Thursday, December 31, 2009

Suicides Increase Among Korean Immigrants in New York Region

"Suicides Soar Among New York Koreans"

"While the recession has scattered its distress widely, without regard for nationality, many Koreans and Korean-Americans in the New York area worry that it is taking a particularly heavy toll on their community.

The number of suicides reported to the local Korean Consulate General has more than doubled this year, to 15 from 6 last year, and there were 5 in 2007. All of the dead were Korean citizens, said the consulate, which does not keep statistics on Korean-Americans. The latest suicide came on Dec. 15, when a woman in her early 30s hanged herself in her home in Flushing, Queens, the consulate said.

The consul general, Kyungkeun Kim, said he believed that the actual total of suicides by Korean citizens might be more than twice as high. The Korea Times, a Korean-language newspaper published in the United States, reported in September that at least 36 Koreans and Korean-Americans in the New York region had taken their lives this year.

Money troubles have been the leading force behind the sharp rise, say Korean civic leaders and officials, who are alarmed by the trend.

Many Koreans place an extraordinary emphasis on academic and professional achievement, said Sung Min Yoon, the assistant project director at the Asian Outreach Clinic of the Child Center of New York. Failure to get into top colleges, perform well at school or climb the economic ladder can cause deep shame and embarrassment.

'We have a very inflexible mentality,' Mr. Yoon said.

Community groups have organized several suicide prevention seminars. The Korean-American director of a funeral home in Flushing that caters to Koreans sponsored two seminars, in New York City and New Jersey.

Koreans are by no means alone in their concern. An Irish-American community center in Yonkers held a series of mental health workshops in the fall after a spate of suicides among Irish immigrants.

The rise in suicides among Koreans in New York, however, mirrors an increase in South Korea, where the suicide rate last year was 26 per 100,000 people, up from 24.8 in 2007 and 21.8 in 2006, said Dr. Myung-Soo Lee, director of the Seoul Suicide Prevention Center.

This month, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reported that South Korea had the highest rate among its 30 member nations, based on 2006 statistics. A number of prominent South Koreans have killed themselves this year, including former President Roh Moo-hyun, who was implicated in a corruption investigation; Daul Kim, a top South Korean model; and Park Yong-oh, the former chairman of Doosan, South Korea’s oldest business conglomerate.

Some experts trace the increase in the suicide rate, in part, to the nation’s rapid transformation from an impoverished agrarian society to a booming industrial power. Traditional family support systems have fractured, age-old value systems have dissolved and materialism has flourished, they say. And those changes continue to steer the lives of recent emigrants to America."

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