South Korea Unveils Ambitious Mental Health Initiative to Tackle Rising Suicide Rates

South Korea and Mental Health

South Korea has taken an unprecedented step of putting in place an all-inclusive strategy to deal with its persistently high suicide rates, particularly among young people.

This move, announced by President Yoon Suk Yeol, is part of the government’s efforts to prioritize mental health and enact preventive strategies that work.

South Korea has consistently topped the OECD countries’ list of suicide rates for about 20 years now, a fact emphasized by the shocking figure of 25.2 deaths per 100,000 people in year 2022- more than twice as the OECD average.

The new plan consists of various components aimed at early recognition, better access to mental healthcare services and stigma reduction of mental illness.

Foremost among these measures will be the implementation of regular mental health check-ups every two years initially targeting individuals aged between 20 and 34 before expanding to cover all age groups.

The extended program will be aimed at spotting early signs that could lead to conditions such as depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorders which when detected on time can enable appropriate interventions.

Subsequently, the government of South Korea plans to enhance follow-up care through increased collaboration with psychiatric departments in welfare centers and hospitals after these check-ups.

President Yoon Suk Yeol underlined mental health importance in future national prosperity because it is related to low birth rates.

Therefore, he promised to create another presidential committee that would come up with policies on mental health investment management and infrastructure development for mental healthcare.

While admitting collective responsibility towards mental health, President Yoon emphasized having it as a national priority so as durable solutions can be developed.

Beyond routine checkups, this plan seeks to offer psychological counseling services to approximately 80,000 individuals next year with a view of reaching out to almost one million people by 2027.

Furthermore, a new hotline (109) dedicated toward addressing mental health crises along with online text-based counseling was created with regard to different ways how someone may seek help.

In addition, Minister of Health and Welfare Cho Kyu-hong reiterated the government’s commitment towards building a society where mental health services are easily accessible to everybody, stating that there should be massive investments in public mental health.

The government of South Korea has opened 24-hour emergency operations involving seventeen provinces, with the Korean National Police Agency and the Ministry of Health cooperating in an integrated center for handling severe mental health cases.

The government plans to look at the possibility of implementing a “judicial hospitalization system”, as well as Psychiatric Advance Directives which provide legal means for putting mentally ill people in hospital or enabling them to express their treatment preferences beforehand.

There are also plans to expand psychiatric emergency centers by 2025 across the whole country, increase psychiatric emergency beds and improve information sharing among relevant authorities.

Lastly, this initiative includes hiring extra phone service counselors, increasing mental health professionals by 2027 to a huge number improving working conditions for these professionals.

It also intends to introduce more rehabilitation centers that would assist individuals who want to reintegrate into society after dealing with mental health matters.

Starting from the next July onward, the Health Ministry targets training 16 million people on suicide prevention.

This program will enable individuals to recognize suicidal tendencies and ask for assistance when they are experiencing such thoughts.

In addition, there will be a national initiative against stigma on mental illness that will involve cooperation between university organizations and mental health advocacy groups.

The ministry will also come up with guidelines on media reporting on mental health so as to reduce any forms of discrimination and bias that might exist.

The financial estimates of these comprehensive strategies have not yet been disclosed due to their complexity; however, the government stands firm on its commitment to implementing these initiatives effectively.

South Korea’s bold plan is a milestone towards addressing mental health challenges, an indication of concerted efforts to prioritize mental well-being and create a friendlier environment for people with mental health problems.

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