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South Korea announces app to combat student suicide

South Korea has one of the highest suicide rates of any developed country. Suicide is the fourth-most-common cause of death among South Koreans, and the numbers are especially high among young people.

In response to the public health crisis, South Korea’s education ministry announced plans for a smartphone app designed to screen students’ social media posts, messages and web searches for words related to suicide, AFP reported Friday.

The app will send an alert to the parents of students are determined to be at risk.

South Korean students report high levels of depression, stress anxiety, much of it caused by the demands of the country’s hypercompetitive education system.

Student suicides tend to increase around November, when high school students take college entrance exams. Students often study intensely for years to prepare for the College Scholastic Ability Test, which can determine their career trajectory and even affect future prospects for marriage.

In addition to attending school full time, many students spend several hours every day preparing for the exam, often seeking extra help from so-called cram schools.

Though many welcomed the education ministry’s announcement of the suicide-prevention app, the ministry also faced criticism for not addressing the roost of the country’s suicide problem, including academic pressures and the stigma of mental health treatment.

“Instead of a stop-gap policy, we must work out a fundamental and eventual solution, because various factors lead to the suicide of students,” the Korean Federation of Teachers’ Associations said in a statement, according to AFP.