175 Korean-American Suicides a Year

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Approximately 3.7 out of every 100 suicides in the United States are Korean-Americans, marking the highest number among all ethnicities, according to 2015 statistics. About 90 percent of Korean-American suicides are the ones who were born in Korea. The Korea Daily partnered with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health (LACDMH) to track the number of Korean-American suicides.

▶ Upward trend since 2013
Over the last five years, 875 Korean-Americans have killed themselves. The number decreased slightly in 2013, but it has been on an upward trend again since. At least 150 Korean-Americans, and at most 190 of them, have taken their own lives every calendar year, according to the data provided by the LACDMH. If the current trend continues, the number of Korean-American suicides could conceivably reach 200 in the near future.

In 2011, 150 Korean-American suicides were reported. The figure took a 25 percent increase in the following year with 188. Although the number decreased to 155 in 2013, it bounced back to 189 and 193 in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

▶ Any age group prone to suicide
In 2015, the total of 193 suicides mean that about 3.7 Korean-Americans have taken their lives every week. Mental health experts said that many of them are choosing to opt for extreme measures after losing motivation in life. The LACDMH emphasized that the most concerning factor is that Korean-Americans who have committed suicides are evenly spread across genders and ages.The data showed that any group of Korean-Americans could be prone to suicides.

In fact, suicides among Korean-Americans was committed by those as young as 15 to as hold as over 85. In order, the age group from 25 to 34 led the way with 39 suicides, followed by 35 to 44 (34), 45 to 54 (32), 15 to 24 (31), 65 to 74 (15), 75 to 84 (10), 85 (3).

▶ 90% committed by immigrants
Notably, 90 percent of the Korean-American suicides were committed by Korean-born immigrants. That essentially means that first generation immigrants are more prone to committing suicide. The LACDMH identified “cultural reasons” as the conceivable reason behind the high suicide rate of Korean immigrants. The inclination to isolate themselves may lead to taking extreme measures as the last resort, experts said.

“Korean immigrants consider it taboo to even speak about the issue of suicide,” said Paul Yoon, a counselor at the Korean American Family Services (KFAM). “So even when they may be suffering from depression or other traumatic illnesses, they tend to go through it on their own. That could lead to them thinking that there’s no one to speak to about problems in their lives, which ultimately may turn into suicidal thoughts.”

Meanwhile, 73 out of 193 (38 percent) Korean-American suicides were committed by females.

“The rate of women committing suicide within the Korean-American community was relatively high compared to other ethnicities,” said Jae-won Kim, mental health training coordinator at the LACDMH. “The number of suicide per 100 cases for Korean-Americans was 3.7 percent, which is the highest among all ethnicities.”

Even in a separate study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2010, Korean-Americans committed more suicides per 100 cases than any other races at 4.4 percent, followed by Native Americans (3.2), Indian-Americans (2.5), Vietnamese-Americans (2), Caucasians (1.7) and blacks (0.8).

By Hyoungjae Kim