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Depression increases among elementary school students

Posted September. 08, 2023 08:34,   

Updated September. 08, 2023 08:34


The number of elementary school students (ages 6 to 11) receiving treatment for depression has increased 1.9 times in the past five years. During the same period, 822 elementary, middle, and high school students (ages 6 to 17) committed suicide. This appears to be due to the prolonged period of living under lockdown in relation to COVID-19.

According to data submitted by the National Health Insurance Corporation by Rep. Kim Won-i (Democratic Party of Korea), a member of the National Assembly Health and Welfare Committee, on Thursday, the number of people aged 6 to 17 who received health insurance-covered treatment for depression increased by 60.1% from 23,347 in 2018 to 37,386 in 2022.

Among them, the age group with the steepest increase was those aged 6 to 11, equivalent to elementary school students, with the number rising by a significant 1.9 times, from 1,849 to 3,541. Additionally, the number of patients with depression aged 12 to 14 increased from 5,893 to 9,257, while the number of patients aged 15 to 17 increased from 15,605 to 24,588.

According to data submitted by the Ministry of Education to Rep. Kim, the number of elementary, middle, and high school students who committed suicide increased from 144 in 2018 to 193 in 2022. Notably, the number of elementary school students who took their own lives during this period increased from three to 11. Out of the 822 elementary, middle, and high school students who committed suicide over five years from 2018 to 2022, the primary cause was academic and career path problems, accounting for the most cases (167) aside from unknown cases (246). Mental health problems (161 cases) and interpersonal problems (134 cases) were also significant factors, with 19 suicides attributed to school violence.

Experts believe that the prolonged shutdown of schools due to COVID-19 contributed to this grim reality by creating an environment where it was challenging for students to receive social support from their peers. Korea had one of the lengthiest school closures among OECD member countries, lasting 79 weeks from February 2020 to March last year, second only to Mexico's 81 weeks. Lee Hae-woo, the head of the Department of Psychiatry at Seoul Medical Center, expressed concern, stating, “In actual medical settings, there is a growing number of emergency hospitalization requests due to suicide attempts by children and adolescents. There is an urgent need to improve the system, including providing psychological counseling support for the young to help with mental health recovery.”

Gun-Hee Cho becom@donga.com