Academic journal article Cross - Cultural Communication

Enculturation and Suicidal Ideation among Korea and U.S. University Students

Academic journal article Cross - Cultural Communication

Enculturation and Suicidal Ideation among Korea and U.S. University Students

Article excerpt


Previous research has shown that attachment to one's cultural roots is a protective factor against suicidal behavior. A questionnaire was administered to 325 South Korean and 356 U.S. university students to assess their suicidal ideation, reasons for living, and attachment to their cultural heritage. The results indicated that the attachment to one's cultural traditions and roots and having more reasons for living were protective factors against suicidal ideation in both cultures. The strength of the associations was much stronger, however, in South Korean students than in American students. Suicide prevention efforts should focus on increasing the ties of at-risk individuals to their cultural heritage.

Key words: Enculturation; Suicidal ideation; Korea university students; U.S. university students


Youth suicide is a growing problem around the world. According to the World Health Organization (www.who. int), for youths (those aged 15-24), suicide is a leading cause of death in both South Korea and the United States. In 2005, the latest year with data for both nations, the suicide rates for those aged 15-24 were 11.8 and 12.6 per 100,000 per year for men and women, respectively, in South K and 16 j and 3 5 ^ the United States. (Xhe hlêher suicide rate for South Korean young women is unusual.) Youth suicide in both countries has increased in recent years, and the increasing number of youth suicides challenges society both in terms of understanding the cause and developing strategies for responding to this serious public health problem.

Dürkheim (1897) argued that a low level of social integration raises the suicide rate. Social integration is the extent to which the people in a society are bound together in social networks. According to Dürkheim, low levels 0f social integration result in egoistic suicide, a type of suicide caused by "excessive individualism" or egoism, Egoism reflects "a general condition of modem societies leading to social isolation of individuals from closely-knit relationship with others" (Giddens, 1971, p.98). When pe0ple have "excessive" freedom to pursue life as they see and do not feei connected to a group or community that commands their loyalty and participation, they are not provided with sufficient protective factors against suicide. As a result, if they encounter stressful life events or experience psychological or physical pain, they find it to consider suicide as an escape.

Durkheim's proposal that integration with others is a protective factor for suicide has been supported by empirical findings. In particular, studies of family networks have indicated that it is a protector against (Breault, 1986; Danigelis «fe Pope, 1979; Stack, 1985). According to Stack (2000), marriage provides support, makes the individual subordinate his or her egoistical tendencies to a spouse, and increases the meaning in life. Marriage, therefore, should function as a protector against suicide, whereas being single is a risk factorIn addition, a substantial amount of research has demonstrated a positive link between divorce and suicide (Pescosolido «fe Wright, 1990; Stack, 1980, 1985; Trovato, 1987), and suicide rates among divorced people are particularly high (Stack, 1990, 1992; Wasserman, 1990). Stack (2000) also found that divorced persons more often exhibit suicidal risk factors such as depression, financial pressures, alcohol abuse, shame, and guilt. With regard to children, in a time series analysis of suicide, birth, divorce and marriage rates in South Korea for the period of 1983-2002, Park and Lester (2006) found, that a higher rate of births and marriages was associated with a lower suicide rate. In contrast, a higher rate of divorces in a year was associated with a higher suicide rate.

Studies also report that a higher level of religious involvement lowers the risk of suicide, probably, in part, through providing networks of social support. Religious structures promote integrative networking and this is likely to decrease the risk suicide (Stack, 2000; Pescosolido «fe Wright, 1990). …

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