Issuing its annual death report, the NSO said a total of 12,858 people, or 24.3 people for every 100,000 Koreans, took their own lives last year, equivalent to 35 people killing themselves on average every day.
The figures represent a rise from 23.9 per 100,000 people in 2007 and 21.5 for 100,000 in 2006.
The figure for Japan, where suicide is also a major social problem, was 19.4 in 2007, and the rate for Hungary, which is also known to have a high suicide rate, was 21 per 100,000 in 2005, according to the latest data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development this year.
The NSO said given the fast growth in the suicide trend in Korea, no other OECD country comes close. “The figures for other OECD countries, even after they are updated, would not be as high as Korea’s recorded last year,” said Lee Ji-yeon, an official of the NSO, one of the report’s authors. “Not even the rates for Japan and Hungary are rising as quickly as Korea’s.”
According to the NSO, suicide was the biggest cause of death for Koreans in their 20s and 30s last year.
As the article says, suicide among celebrities and public figures is especially common. This year's most notable suicides were former president Roh Moo-hyun and actress Choi Jin-shil. I will say, regarding celebrities, that while others are quick to point out how fragile and disfunctional Korea's are, in the West it's far more common and acceptable for public figures to descend into drug use or other self-destructive behavior.
If you're a teacher, you'll likely have a suicide in your town or even your school. They become more common around standardized test time; one of the student council officers at my school was injured when she jumped off her apartment the night before the midterm exam.
The Herald has further analysis of the figures:
In 2008, the greatest number of suicides occurred in October. A total of 1,793 people committed suicide that month, whereas an average of 1,000 suicides took place in other months. KNSO analyzed that as suicides of celebrities like Choi Jin-sil and Ahn Jae-hwan occurred in that period, many copycat suicides may have followed.
Moreover, suicide was a leading cause of death among those in their 20s and 30s. About 29 percent of all suicides were committed those in that age bracket. It occurred five times more often among people in their 80s than among those in their 20s. Divorced people had a suicide rate four times that of those who are married.
And regarding copycats, a commenter on this site said in response to a post I did on one such death that given how many suicides there are, it's tough to say blatant copycats are statistically any more common than the other types of suicide you'd get on an average day.