One of the biggest social issues facing South Korea today is the suicide rate, which is one of the highest in the world. It’s not a problem that is going to be solved overnight, but it is one that desperately needs to be addressed. The government in Seoul, along with Samsung Life Insurance (under the same umbrella as Samsung Electronics, but autonomous) and Cheil Worldwide, are trying to take the first step at Seoul’s Mapo Bridge, which has been the site of 108 suicide attempts in the last eight years.
Instead of taking to physical measures to try to prevent suicides, like walls or higher railings, the efforts are taking a more emotional, inspirational approach. The bridge is now the site of quotes, pictures, and one statue, all designed to be uplifting, in the hopes of changing the minds of those who are contemplating suicide. The quotes run the gamut from inspirational to motivational to light-hearted. The two companies claim they consulted with psychologists and suicide prevention activists while putting together the idea for the bridge’s makeover.
It looks like their hearts are in the right place, but I have to wonder a little about that last claim. One quote on the bridge, as cited by a Reuters report (and translated from Korean to English), is “Worries are nothing.” That might seem like it makes sense on its face, but, in the mental health field, that’s a textbook example of something not to say to someone with suicidal ideation – the person is obviously tremendously worried or anxious about something (or many things), and trying to make those worries seem small could very well lead to further feelings of embarrassment and shame.
A man interviewed as part of the Reuters report (translated from Korean to English) put it very well - “I doubt its effectiveness. I think the government should come up with good policies to lower the suicide rate. People’s lives are getting harder, and some are pinched by poverty. Just attaching these messages on the bridge won’t prevent suicide. We need fundamental measures to solve the problem.”
He’s absolutely right – the best means of suicide prevention is to attack the roots of the problem, roots which today are all too often associated with economic problems. But, the bridge does accomplish one extremely important goal. It takes that vital first step that needs to be taken when approaching any problem – acknowledging the problem in the first place. If the messages of the Mapo Bridge lead to greater awareness of the suicide problem in South Korea and a stronger willingness to confront that problem, then all involved will have done well with the Mapo Bridge.