North Korea’s High Suicide Rate: Covering Up An Even Greater Tragedy?

North Korea has the second highest suicide rate in the world, according to a report published by the World Health Organization (WHO). Although that does not seem surprising given the horrendous domestic conditions, it might be an inaccuracy that covers up a more horrible truth.

In its report, Preventing Suicide: A Global Imperative, the WHO takes suicide information gathered from two sources, official medical records and surveys from a representative sample of citizens. Since the nature of the data involves trusting the host country for accuracy, some have questioned the WHO conclusions.

A paper published by the Unification Medical Center early last year, said that suicide in North Korea is very rare.

The reason was simple, it wasn’t allowed.

People who committed suicide were considered traitors to the state and their families would bear the burden for the crime. North Korea uses its supposedly low suicide rate as propaganda.

According to Park Sang-min, lead author of Unification Medical Center report,

“North Korean media tends to use the high suicide rate in the South as proof to show off the superiority of their social system, and they barely mention North Koreans taking their own lives.”

The government agency that runs what are essentially the country’s mental hospitals in each province, called Unit 49, treats mental illnesses that can lead to suicide. Although drug treatments are available, the preferred treatment for patients is hard labor. Those dying from those situations may be under reported.

So why, after years of repressing suicide, does North Korea appear to have the second highest suicide rate in world?

Sokeel Park, director of research and strategy at Liberty in North Korea has this theory,

“It might be like in East Germany under the Stasi, where if someone died during an interrogation or while detained they just called it a suicide.”

If the same is true for North Korea, the WHO number could be giving a glimpse on the number of people killed while being processed by the regime. Nevertheless, it seems like the country may be having difficulty controlling its propaganda if it’s now admitting to a massive surge in suicides. Another missile test that was reported by the Inquisitr, may have been another attempt at giving another story to the domestic news.

North Korea isn’t the top of the list though. The country with the most suicides is Guyana, which had 44.2 suicides for every 100,000 people (North Korea only had 38.5).

Right below North Korea, number three on the list was South Korea, with 28.9 suicides per 100,000 people. Between the two warring countries, the Korean peninsula has a big task ahead in preventing suicide.

[Image Credit: Kristoferb/Wikimedia Commons]