What should I study to help reduce suicide and depression in this world?
November 17, 2016 5:50 PM   Subscribe

My home country of South Korea is suffering from #1 suicide rate in the entire world. It's happening mostly to young people in their 10s, 20s, and 30s who are severely affected by modern-day capitalism. Many attribute it to the culture that is ridden with status anxiety, comparison to others, severe competition and appearance-obsession, and I only see it getting worse. I would like to start studying an academic field that will help me make an impact in this area. Can anybody point me in the right direction for the best field of study so that I can start making myself into somebody who can make an impact in this area? (I'm guessing it's related to Psychology)

I'm guessing I should start out with a Bachelor's of Science in Psychology but I already graduated back in 2011 with a Business Degree so this will be a big career change.
posted by burea1124 to Education (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'm guessing it's related to Psychology

Is it? Does it have to be? Why?

I feel like this kind of foregone conclusion is the same thing as if someone asked how they could save the most lives and assumed a Doctor (M.D.) would be the occupation of choice when, and I'm just spitballing here, occupations like Firefighter, Policeman, Social Worker, or hell even Dietitian or Physical Trainer might be just as valid answers in the statistical/functional sense.

How can I save the most vintage cars? The answer might be Mechanic... but it could also be Road Worker or Museum Conservationist.

Dolphins? It might be Veterinarian but the argument could be made for Marine Biologist/Researcher or even Photographer or Children's Book Author.

I don't have the answer to this question, but I think going into it with the mindset that the answer lies in a certain direction is risky at best and potentially flawed at worst.
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:22 PM on November 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

Psychiatry with a lens directed towards public health might be a good way to begin. To take this route you would need to go to medical school. If you don't want to go to medical school, psychology or social work might be reasonable as well.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 6:36 PM on November 17, 2016

I guess it depends on if you want to work with individuals or on the systemic issues that have this result. You might start out with training to work a suicide hotline; to get a sense of if that's the type of work you are good at, and hearing peoples' stories and starting to think about how you can apply your gifts in other ways.
posted by bleep at 6:43 PM on November 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

You already have a Business degree. Go for your Masters in Public Health and a Doctorate in Social and Behavioral Health Sciences (or vice versa). Then get involved in government and spearhead programs that address social and mental health issues.
posted by erst at 6:53 PM on November 17, 2016 [21 favorites]

Is there some way you could pivot your business degree and whatever you've been doing with it for the past 5 years into the realm of suicide prevention? There is a financial/business management side to everything involved in suicide prevention, whether its on the side of mental health care providers or the research/awareness/policy side. Figuring out how to make the biggest impact is perhaps less important of a question than figuring out how you can use your existing talents, gifts, and skills to contribute to this cause.

It would be hard to deny, for example, that former publishing industry businessman Reese Butler--who founded the organization behind the 1-800-SUICIDE crisis hotline--has contributed to saving more lives from suicide than any individual therapist or probably any individual researcher in the field of psychology/suicidology.
posted by drlith at 6:56 PM on November 17, 2016 [7 favorites]

Organizations consisting of non-profit professionals working for awesome stuff like suicide prevention and all the circumstances leading to it that you mention in your question are almost always going to be desperately aching for someone with a business education and people who have other vital skills that make the other folks effective at their chosen goals.

I don't know how it's structured in South Korea, but if you were in the states I would suggest that you find an organization that you think is doing the right thing and contacting them directly to ask what skills and knowledge would best help them to do the most good. You might volunteer part time to get an idea of where the blind spots are and what needs aren't being met, so you can help people while you study to help more people.

It's pretty clear from your question that you know suicide prevention is a very complex issue. Its causes are really interdisciplinary, so although you can get a good angle on it from one course of study or another, no one person is going to be able to effect change unless they work with other people in different fields. I think you have the right attitude and priorities to be one of those very helpful people from a different field.
posted by Mizu at 7:15 PM on November 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

Public health seems like the best bet, since it would deal with the structural issues so you can target hug numbers of at-risk people at once, instead of just those you come into direct contact with. But I'm going to throw social work in there, too.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:16 PM on November 17, 2016

If you are very keen on working in government or for charities or in academia, that's one path. But, as an entrepreneur, I encourage you to look at whether your work in business could help change the world. You could bring innovative products to market, help market charities in this field or even just bring in new kinds of wellness and other programs in the workplace. I know someone who went into employment law, with the aim of bringing in more mental health supports. I know a lawyer who works with victims of trauma. A friend works for a Fortune 500 company and has brought in programs to help advance wellness, women in leadership, healthy life balance opportunities and the LGBTQ+ community. Those are just some examples. I try to change the world with all the work I do and I'm selective about clients and I weave mental health stuff into my work all the time. Anyway, I just wanted to give those as ideas outside the box.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 7:18 PM on November 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Look at the research being done on suicide, and the programs in place. See who is doing that research and leading those programs. Be them.

Otherwise, go into policy.
posted by OrangeVelour at 7:38 PM on November 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Public health and/or social work.
posted by lazuli at 7:53 PM on November 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Perhaps capitalism is the problem, and you should look into ways of helping people see their worth beyond their role in it?
posted by Lycaste at 8:23 PM on November 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

A close colleague of mine studies suicide in developing countries in general and Nepal in particular from a social science perspective (anthropology). She works very much in a qualitative and "epidemiology without numbers" tradition while examining the social structures that both encourage suicide and turn a blind eye to it. She also strongly advocates for mental health services in developing nations. I reached out to her and this is what she had to say:

"There's not a lot of people in academia or elsewhere that spend a lot of time documenting the lives of suicidal people. iIthink some ethnographies of their everydayness, their struggle, successes, and rationalizations is important. It's also hard as shit.

There's also not a lot of evidence for effective interventions beyond those in the clinical sphere. Economic, educational, and social interventions should be explored alongside existing evidence. The asker should consider studying suicide in places where no one wants to -- like Guyana, Greenland, etc. There is not much scholarship here at all about what suicide looks like in these countries.

Basically, just don't pursue the biomedical aspects (imaging studies, biomarkers, ketamine trials) -- these are well funded and, in my opinion, useless -- particularly if we ignore the social aspects. This is a wide-open field and there are a lot of suggestions."

She also recommends having a look at the NIH 2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention as a way to frame thinking about more than just biomedical means for stopping suicide.
posted by WidgetAlley at 9:16 PM on November 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

A dear friend of mine is more studying social work as a career switch from a marketing career. She volunteered with places she cared about and tried first bringing her marketing skills into an organisation with a cause she cared about, then realised it was the casework and counseling part that she really wanted to do, not just the cause. The key was that she found marketing projects meaningless and dull compared to very basic social work support tasks. Another friend in a similar career switch is definitely not changing her marketing background but keeping it as a consultant for non profits and advocacy instead of corporate clients, because she loves the actual work, just not the clients.

If you enjoy business, management and planning are key skills. Sales and fundraising is vital. New business development, bringing in new ideas and concepts to South Korea about suicide prevention, getting public and partner support, etc.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 10:46 PM on November 17, 2016

There are several reports about the financial cost of suicide. I can't link right now but I know there's one from the Centre for Disease Control in the US and here in Australia you can find a recent one by googling KPMG + Menslink + suicide. There was also a spate of suicides at one of the Fortune 500 companies, can't remember which one right now.

My point is that maybe you can combine things. If you work in a big male dominated industry and can show someone where the money is, maybe there's something you can initiate or join in your own industry? Working age men are a huge at risk group.

There are some recent changes in Japan you might find interesting too, some of the cultural stuff will be similar, and they are reducing their rate. MeMail me if you can't find anything by googling. I can look it up for you later.
posted by stellathon at 11:03 PM on November 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Can anybody point me in the right direction for the best field of study so that I can start making myself into somebody who can make an impact in this area? (I'm guessing it's related to Psychology)
Your search - relaxation massage korea - did not match any documents.


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Go out and get yourself trained up to be super-skilled at relaxation massage. Then start a practice and build a clientele. Once you've spent a couple of years literally doing the hands-on work, you'll have the skills to recognize another effective, empathetic, skilled relaxation masseur when you meet one. Then start hiring them. Then use your business skills to open more outlets. Then start a chain. Then make relaxation massage and body awareness (as opposed to body image) not only available and respectable in your country but K-pop fashionable. Then save the world.

That's the plan, anyway.
posted by flabdablet at 11:20 PM on November 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Use your business background to start companies or ventures that employ single mothers and thus help change that aspect of the culture. That has left emotional scars through generations.
posted by Iteki at 3:15 AM on November 18, 2016

Start by volunteering at a suicide prevention hotline - people from all walks of life volunteer there and they give you the training you need. I think you'll find your answer from there.
posted by Toddles at 4:17 AM on November 18, 2016

Meaningfulness has been studied, in a rudimentary way, in behavioral economics.

In one well-known set of experiments, people were paid to do some simple task (assembling a cardboard file box, folding origami cranes, filling out a math quiz), and the way the products or rewards were handled varied: someone looked at them and thanked them or didn't, or the quiz was shredded in front of them or wasn't, or the perceived value of the item was compared to an identical one that was premade.

These give surprising/not surprising results: tearing up someone's work in front of them makes them not want to do it as much, for example. The thing about behavioral economics, though, is that it starts to give measurable results for these kinds of things, and makes ideas like meaningfulness possible to talk about in a formal context.

You could potentially extrapolate an argument in favor of, for example, providing flower boxes for people to plant their own gardens with their own hands, instead of paying a service to install uniform landscaping for people. You could also use this to argue in favor of allowing or even encouraging people's idiosyncratic but self-created decor instead of just imposing a uniform look from a professional designer.

So, if one is trying to argue in favor of doing or making or funding something that would increase meaningfulness, research like this is very helpful. It would be valuable to study to do this kind of research, or to compile it, or to popularize it, or to formulate it so that others can use it in cases like those described above, or to support those who are doing this.
posted by amtho at 5:54 AM on November 18, 2016

Your premise that it's mostly the young is false: Seoul Suicide Rate Highest Among the Elderly

That said, I'm not sure what can be done--the suicides here are products of very complex and multifaceted conditions, including but not limited to:
extreme competition for school and work
rapidly aging population with a rapidly shrinking young generation unable to care for them
US-influenced free trade policies
rapid loss of manufacturing jobs to China
rapid social and cultural change
a dark and horrifying recent history
rapid urbanization and abandonment of rural and ex-urban areas
extreme housing costs in those urban areas and what appears to be a significant real estate bubble
mandatory military service (for men) and frequent abuse during that service
rapid changes in gender roles (for the better!) and resistance to those changes
lingering Confucianism that rubs harshly against more "modern" lifestyles of younger generations
extremely long working hours often followed by mandatory drinking

There are a lot of places you could make a positive contribution, but don't go in expecting to see results--a whole lot of serious shit would have to change to make a real dent in the suicide rate here.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:44 PM on November 18, 2016

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