Seoul Launches Suicide Watchdog

South Korea's capital is stepping up its efforts to stop people from killing themselves in one of the most suicide-prone countries in the industrialized world.

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Seoul, the capital of South Korea, which has the highest suicide rate among the world's wealthiest countries, has launched a group to look out for online suicide communities.

South Korea has by some measurements the highest suicide rate among industrialized nations. According to the latest data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development(OECD), 28 out of 100,000 Koreans took their own lives in 2009 — nearly triple the rate in the U.S. On any given day in Korea, an average of 40 people kill themselves.

Now, officials in the capital Seoul have had enough. The city has created a watchdog group of 100 members, including mental health specialists and ordinary citizens, to “monitor blogs, portals and social networking Web sites for the next year to keep a lookout for sites that incite its users to commit suicide”, according to a report by Yonhap News. If the group finds a site that encourages suicide it will notify the city’s suicide prevention centers, which will then take immediate action and launch an investigation, said Seoul city officials.

(MORE: CDC Tracks Thoughts of Suicide in Adults, State by State)

Online Internet suicide communities, where friends and strangers share tips on suicide methods and plan group suicides, have become a serious social problem in recent years, according to local Korean media. Last year, around 8,500 suicide websites were reported to authorities, reported YTN News.

Analysts attribute the country’s high suicide rate to cutthroat competition for education and jobs, the emphasis on appearances and prestige, and widespread stigma of seeking mental health treatment.

“From the beginning of childhood, the importance of money and achievement are emphasized by their parents, so they feel that unless you are successful in school grades and a good job, good prestigious college, you’re not successful, and the parents behave as if ‘you’re not my child’,” said child psychologist Hong Kang-ee to BBC news.