“If you suspect suicide, ask directly”

December 24, 2013
Jae Kim

Jae Kim

Clinical social worker at L.A. County Department of Mental Health 

Jae Kim talks about suicide prevention – “Bullying is not the only cause”


By Kwon Ji-youn

Jae Kim, a clinical social worker who works for the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, said that though bullying may seem like the main cause behind teen suicide, there often are a number of other contributing factors.

“Many bullied youth who showed suicidal behaviors had co-existing risk factors such as depression, alcohol use and conduct disorder, according to research,” Kim said in an email interview with The Korea Times.

“There is concern when the media highlights bullying while describing a teen’s suicide. That could prevent some youths from thinking of other healthy coping behaviors. It is important to bring up good examples of resiliency and coping skills,” he said.

Kim, who provides training to community organizations regarding suicide prevention, attributes suicide more to “stressful events with feelings of loss.”  He says “It could be financial hardship, physical illness or pain, loss of a loved one, poor academic performance, loss of freedom or loss of dignity, and there is a risk of feeling hopeless and suicidal if an individual feels he or she has lost an important thing, person or value.”

“The risk is higher especially among individuals who do not have enough stress-coping skills or support from others,” he added.

According to Statistics Korea in September, teen suicide has increased at a rate of 57.2 percent in the last 10 years, and this ranked Korea second among all member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
With regards to adults, the suicide rate rose 50.5 percent, indicating that teen suicide is an even more pressing issue.

The problem is further exacerbated when celebrities and other famous figures commit suicide, causing what Korean society calls the Werther Effect, otherwise known as copycat suicide. To prevent such behavior, Kim advised that one directly ask troubled individuals whether they are thinking about suicide. “If you worry about someone and you suspect that the person might be thinking about suicide based on what they say or their behaviors, you have to ask the person about suicide in a direct way, because indirect questions bring about indirect answers,” he explained.

He added that a direct question about suicide opens up communication. It is important to genuinely listen to the person’s reasons for wanting to die, so that the individual feels understood, he said.

Kim also advised that those whose acquaintances are suffering from depression contact suicide prevention centers for help.  “The goal of such programs is that people in the community feel comfortable in seeking help for their mental issues,” he said. “We eventually can reduce the number of suicide behaviors in our community.”