Korean suicide rate is highest among Asian groups

The story was originally published by The Korea Daily with support from our 2024 Ethnic Media Collaborative, Healing California

On March 3, 2023, around 11 p.m., Joseph Chung, 51, a minister at a Korean-American megachurch for 20 years, murdered his wife, 49, and daughter, 8, with a weapon before committing suicide.

The investigation revealed that Chung was experiencing financial difficulties at the time, a situation few around him were aware of. The tragedy involving Chung’s family typifies the “committing suicide after killing the entire family” cases, involving domestic violence. Such fatal cases have been rare in the Korean-American community

In early December, Chul-un Park, 64, leaped to his death from the fourth-floor parking garage of the Galleria Market in LA’s Koreatown. Park, who had been living at a shelter run by Father Yohan Kim of St. James Episcopal Church for the past two years, reportedly struggled with interpersonal relationships at the shelter and frequently turned to alcohol for solace.

The prevalence of suicide among Koreans is alarming. Research by the Korea Daily indicates that 2,353 Koreans took their own lives nationwide from 2011 to 2022.

Line graph showing trends in Suicide rate among asians in California

The ‘Korean suicide rate (N/100,000)’ is the highest among Asians. In 2022, the national suicide rate for Koreans was 15.7, compared to 5.9 for Chinese, 5.2 for Japanese, and 4.3 for Filipinos.

Even when analyzed by region, such as California and Los Angeles, the rate is nearly twice that of all Asians. In 2022, the suicide rate for Koreans in California was 12.4 per 100,000 people, compared to 6.8 for all Asians. In the same year, the suicide rate for Koreans in LA County was 12.3 per 100,000 people, compared to 6.3 for all Asians.

There is an urgent need for community-wide mental health initiatives.

To gauge mental health awareness among Korean community members, the Korea Daily conducted the ‘Korean Community Mental Health Survey’ on our website from January 12 to 22. A total of 310 Korean-speaking individuals (67% male, 33% female) from California and beyond participated.

The survey’s findings are concerning: half of the respondents said they had “seriously” considered suicide in the past year, and one in three had thought “specifically” about methods.

Table showing korean suicide rate in America by year

While these survey participants do not represent all Koreans, they reflect a segment of the Korean American community currently facing a mental health crisis.

Participants cited financial difficulties, mental health issues such as isolation, loneliness, depression, and familial disputes as reasons for their suicidal thoughts.

Remarkably, four out of five respondents who have contemplated suicide have not shared their feelings, with 87% preferring to cope alone, feeling embarrassed, or unsure of how to seek help. 

Only 21% of respondents have confided in someone about their suicidal thoughts.

“Having specific thoughts about suicide is a very dangerous sign of being on the verge of an attempt,” warned Dr. Susan Jung, a psychiatrist based in Los Angeles. “Immediate psychiatric evaluation or hospital visitation is necessary. The fact that one in two respondents had serious thoughts of suicide is alarming.”

If you or someone you know is struggling, please reach out to the following helplines: Hotline 988 Chat: 988lifeline.org, LA County Department of Mental Health Hotline: 800-854-7771 (Option 6 for Korean), Koreatown Mental Health Center: 213-948-2980, or YouStar Foundation: youstarfoundation.org.

A version of this story was published by The Korea Daily on February 20, 2024

This Korea Daily project is supported by the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, and is part of “Healing California,” a yearlong Ethnic Media Collaborative reporting venture with print, online and broadcast outlets across California.