Koreans face competitive pressures

A competitive culture and focus on appearances lie behind the country with the highest suicide rate in the developed world.

South Korea has the highest rate of suicide in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development at 22 per 100,000 people, or 40 people per day in 2009.

An article in The Economist last month said the country's competitive spirit had a "dark side", leading to depression and suicide.

Sixteen Koreans have committed suicide in New Zealand over the past three years. They make up 0.75 per cent of the population, but about 1 per cent of suicides.

In May this year, three members of a Korean family were found dead in their home. Sung Eun Cho, 43, was discovered with her daughters Yeon Sue Baek (Kelly), 13, and Yeon Jae Baek (Holly), 17.

Their father, Young Jin Baek, flew in from South Korea for their funerals and was found dead in his car four days later.

Canterbury University Korean student Eugene Song said the deaths were a "massive shock" to the Korean community.

They had prompted a number of her friends to study counselling and social work to fill the void of culturally appropriate help available to Korean migrants.

Many were suffering from isolation, as Koreans tended to move to New Zealand as a small family unit, while other nationalities, such as Chinese, tended to come with a large extended family.

While some Koreans enjoyed the more laid-back lifestyle in New Zealand, others missed the fast pace of Asia and became depressed, Song said.

Keeping up appearances was very important in South Korea, where mental health problems were not widely discussed.

The Press