South Korea tackles suicides

South Korea has the second highest suicide rate in the world with 29.1 Koreans committing suicide out of every 100,000. The Korean Neuropsychiatric Association found that a quarter of those questioned in a recent survey suffered from high stress levels with work cited as a prime cause. To combat this, the Hyowon Healing Centre conducted mock ceremonies for employees where they are asked to sit at desks in white robes and write final letters to loved ones. Finally, they lie down in the coffin while holding a picture of themselves. After having watched videos of those who have faced great adversity including cancer patients who make the most of their days, the period in the coffin becomes a time for reflection all of which is aimed at developing a sounder appreciation of life. President of the Hyowon Healing Centre Park Chun-Woong believes that the “shocking experience…would totally reset [employee] minds for a completely fresh start in their attitudes.” This is combined with early morning exercise and laughter therapy sessions in which participants laugh raucously to create a jovial atmosphere before the start of the day.

Suicide has become the top cause of death for those between 10 and 39 in South Korea with 40 South Koreans committing suicide every day. These statistics also extend to students especially those sitting examinations for university. Steps are being taken with students now being cheered on by classmates upon reaching the examination venue and adults going to work an hour later on the day to ensure no traffic delays for students.

There are detractors who remained unconvinced by the proposals pioneered by Hyowon Healing with Francoise Hugier, a French photographer who made a project about the Hyowon Healing Centre in Seoul, stating that reactions varied with some participants falling asleep, others crying and others taking selfies. There are of course converts such as Cho Yong-tae who said “After the coffin experience, I realised I should try to live a new style of life. I’ve realised I’ve made lots of mistakes. I hope to be more passionate in all the work I do and spend more time with my family.”