Asia's economic crisis spurs suicides
Web posted at: 6:27 p.m. EST (2327 GMT)
SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- As the Asian financial crisis lingers, taking its toll on jobs and savings, more people are cracking under the strain.
In downtown Seoul, officials have applied grease to the railings of a bridge in an attempt to cut down on the number of people who climb onto the railings and jump to their deaths. But even that has not deterred the most desperate.
Many Asian countries do not keep official figures for suicides, but counselors report a huge increase in demand for their services.
During the past six months, the Samaritan Suicide Hotline in Hong Kong logged 56,000 calls -- 15,000 more than it received for all of 1997.
"Many (of the callers) have invested all of their financial resources in property or the stock market," said Frances Law of the Samaritan hot line. "All of a sudden, they have nothing. It is very difficult for them to cope."
Coping is that much harder in many Asian societies, where loss of face is taken more seriously than in most Western countries.
In Japan, where samurais took their own lives to avoid disgrace after a defeat, some corporate executives are preserving the "hara-kiri" tradition in the face of economic collapse. In a stretch of woods near Mount Fuji known as "suicide forest," dozens of bodies have been found this year.
"Japan's middle-aged workforce has been hit by the bursting of the so-called 'bubble economy,' just when they had finally reached a comfortable level of income and status in society, and they can't bear it anymore," said professor Kohnosuke Tazaki of Waseda University
Psychiatrist Toru Sekiya told TIME magazine that out of the 1,400 patients who checked into his clinic last year, nine out of 10 had been -- or were about to be -- laid off from their jobs.
"Stress-related illnesses and suicides are rising because of working conditions," Sekiya said. "People who thought they had permanent jobs are finding it difficult to cope with unemployment or change."
Hong Kong Bureau Chief Mike Chinoy contributed to this report.
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