Background: Suicide rates have recently been decreasing on average among OECD countries, but increasing trends have been detected in South Korea, particularly since the 1997 economic crisis. There have been no detailed analyses about the changes of the suicide rates over time periods in Korea. We examined trends in both absolute and proportional suicide rates over the time period of economic development, crisis, and recovery (1986 - 2005) as well as in birth cohorts from 1924 to 1978.
Methods: We used data on total mortality and suicide rates from 1986 to 2005 published online by the Korean National Statistical Office (NSO) and extracted data for individuals under 80 years old. The analyses of the trends for 1) the sex-age-specific total mortality rate, 2) the sex-age-specific suicide rate, and 3) the sex-age-specific proportional suicide rate in 1986-2005 were conducted. To demonstrate the birth cohort effect on the proportional suicide rate, the synthetic birth cohort from 1924 to 1978 from the successive cross-sectional data was constructed.
Results: Age standardized suicide rates in South Korea increased by 98% in men (from 15.3 to 30.3 per 100,000) and by 124% in women (from 5.8 to 13.0 per 100,000). In both genders, the proportional increase in suicide rates was more prominent among the younger group aged under 45, despite the absolute increase being attributed to the older group. There were distinct cohort effects underlying increasing suicide rates particularly among younger age groups.
Conclusion: Increasing suicide rates in Korea was composed of a greater absolute increase in the older group and a greater proportional increase in the younger group.