With South Korea about to enter its first recession in a decade and exports suffering their biggest ever drop, the country's health ministry has launched a suicide prevention program. South Korea's suicide rate nearly doubled during the Asian financial crisis 10 years ago with experts blaming it on stress caused by job and income losses.
"There is a fundamental connection between economic hardships and our high suicide rate," said a ministry official
In South Korea, a commuter train operator is even installing doors blocking access to railway tracks due to a sharp increase in people committing suicide by jumping in front of trains.
Millions of people in Asia have lost their jobs and retirees and other small investors have lost their life savings due to plunging stock markets and the collapse of investment funds. Asian governments are setting up hotlines and counseling centers to help those hit hardest by the financial crisis and the subsequent economic downturn.
Paul Yip, a mental health and suicide prevention specialist in Hong Kong, has seen a jump in the number of patients coming to his clinic for help to cope with the downturn.
"Work is very important to the Asian because we don't have very good social security and losing one's job is associated with the loss of 'face'. So the trauma can be great,"
Hong Kong started special hotlines in October for people suffering from the financial crisis and it opened "depression clinics" in some public hospitals this month.
"The clinics were opened in expectation of more people suffering depression because of the crisis. The government has also ordered more anti-depression drugs," said William Chui, education director at the Society of Hospital Pharmacists.
In Japan, some half a million contract workers are expected to be laid off in the six months until April. The industrial center of Aichi in central Japan, home to Toyota car factories and other manufacturers, has been particularly hard hit.An official in Aichi said the number of people bringing their problems to mental health centers rose by nearly 15 percent in December, compared with the same period in 2007. Japan's suicide rate rose sharply during a severe recession in the late 1990s when guarantees of lifetime employment collapsed, there were mass retrenchments and university graduates struggled to find jobs.
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