Recently I produced a video displaying a website that impersonates the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA the North Korean state media) where I predicted the site was going to be used to spread false information about the DPRK. I was correct, one of the first pieces of hollow propaganda is a link to a piece that makes the claim “North Korea’s suicide rate among worst in world, says WHO report.” Being such a rather extreme claim I certainly had to investigate it. I am also aware that the DPRK doesn’t publish such statistics, so it was interesting to find out where they would get such information from.
Clicking the on the link of the false KCNA website takes you to an article by The Guardian. There it repeats the claim in less dramatic wording:
“South Korea’s problem with suicide has been well documented. But a World Health Organisation report has found that the problem is even worse in its northerly neighbour, making the peninsula one of the most suicidal regions in the world.
“The report, entitled Preventing Suicide: A Global Imperative, estimates that in 2012, 9,790 suicides took place in North Korea, with roughly equal numbers of males and females killing themselves. The report acknowledged that acquiring data was difficult, and that it had arrived at its North Korean estimate by factoring in a range of statistically predictive factors.
“Analysts say North Koreans may be driven to suicide by poverty, and the psychological stress of living in a restrictive environment. “I heard economic hardship was the main reason, but really, for anyone who is gay or lesbian or has mental health issues, life in North Korea is really tough,” said Sandra Fahy, assistant professor at Sophia University in Tokyo and author of the forthcoming monogrpah Marching Through Suffering: Loss, Survival and North Korea.”
Obviously the first thing I did was check this study they cite. Preventing Suicide: A Global Imperative. This is what it claims for the suicide rate in the DPRK:
These statistics show a grim picture that would suggest all kinds of nasty assumptions about life in the DPRK. However upon closer investigation we can clearly see the number 4 in brackets in the column marked with two asterisks which tells us there’s more information.
At the bottom of the chart in the two asterisks section there is a fourth point which reads “No vital registration.” Vital registration is essentially a “vital record” which is the record that the government keeps of the life events of persons. These typically include birth certificates, marriage licenses, and death certificates. In some jurisdictions, vital records may also include records of civil unions or domestic partnerships. What the chart is saying is that it has no official sources of information regarding the suicide rate of DPRK citizens. Since this is so, where are they getting this information from? The answer is nowhere; there is no other mention of the DPRK in the document. This document has not other information pertaining to the DPRK. The suicide rate appears to have come from nowhere.
Back in the first paragraph of The Guardian quote it has a link to another article on global suicides which also makes reference to the DPRK. Going to that article, titled “Suicide kills one person worldwide every 40 seconds, WHO report finds”, its source for information on DPRK suicides links the same study I just went over. So thus far it appears as though there is no information for these supposed suicide rates at all.
Now you may have noticed that there is another column on the chart “Age-standardized suicide rates *** (per 100 000), 2012”. That column has three asterisks which lead to the words, “Standardized to the WHO World Standard Population”. In both articles there is mention of a 2012 world suicide report that is supposed to give the numbers for the DPRK. Of course neither article actually links to said report. The main source for these numbers and other information lead to a 2012 report on suicides globally by the WHO. The page does contain a graphic displaying suicide rates globally which does include the DPRK. You’ll note that they’ve listed the DPRK and the Republic of Korea in the same category.
This chart is part of a section of the page titled, “WHO Global Health Estimates”. The section says, “The WHO Global Health Estimates provide a comprehensive and comparable assessment of mortality (including suicide) and loss of health due to diseases and injuries for all regions of the world. The latest WHO assessment of deaths by cause is for the years 2000–2012.” In addition it also links to a study called, “WHO methods and data sources for country-level causes of death 2000‐2012.” It also goes by the technical title, “Global Health Estimates Technical Paper WHO/HIS/HSI/GHE/2014.7”.
In this report it classifies the DPRK as a “D”, which means its data is collected from a document titled “UNPD’s World Population Prospects – the 2012 revision”. This document has nothing to do with suicides. It talks about life expectancies, fertility rates, and population numbers. I have scoured everything these papers link to and I cannot find anything that gives any source for information. There seems to be no source for this information available at all.
All of this nonexistent information regarding suicide rates is completely contradicted by a January 2013 report by the Unification Medical Ministry (UMM) at Seoul National University which says that suicides in the DPRK are rare. This study noticed the same thing that I did, that there was no source for the WHO claim which they heavily criticized.
“In the case of the DPRK, no such data was identified and the statistical estimates for suicide deaths by cause were based on regression models that predicted the levels of suicide based on data from surrounding countries (such as China, Republic of Korea and other Asian countries) adjusted according to levels of statistically predictive factors such as alcohol consumption, population density, average income per capita, average education levels, religion, etc.”
‘…the estimates based on what is expected in neighboring countries with totally different political, social, financial and value systems would be less than reliable and the quality of these stats will be highly variable’
Along with this there has been a longstanding anti-DPRK propaganda line that says anyone who commits suicide has their family killed, or jailed depending on which “defector” story is offered. There have been all kinds of unproven stories about fantastic and wild punishments for committing suicide. However one semi-legit source says that suicides seem on par with other countries.
“Felix Abt was managing director for the PyongSu Joint Venture Company, the first foreign-invested joint venture in the pharmaceutical field in the DPRK, from late 2005 to February 2009. Abt told NK News that while in the North he had enquired about mental illnesses associated with suicide, such as depression or anxiety.
““Although doctors saw patients with such symptoms or with a suicidal behavior the percentage did not seem higher in comparison to estimates I had from other developing countries,” he said.”
With all this having been said, there is absolutely no information showing that the DPRK has a high suicide rate. This study by the WHO, with regards to the DPRK is wholly without credibility. The truth on what the suicide rate is in the DPRK is unknown as the country does not publicly publish such information. As usual the bourgeois media accepted this baseless claim by the WHO without question showing what little credibility and honesty they have. Again we are left with nothing but the most insulting of imperialist claims that serve not the truth, but to forward the interests of imperialism in justifying the inhuman sanctions and military threats.
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Fake KCNA Website
North Korea’s suicide rate among worst in world, says WHO report, The Guardian
Preventing suicide: A global imperative, WHO
Suicide kills one person worldwide every 40 seconds, WHO report finds, The guardian
WHO Mental Health, Suicide Data
WHO Suicide Date Chart 2012
Health statistics and information systems,Completeness and coverage of death registration data, WHO
WHO methods and data sources for global causes of death 2000−2012. Global Health Estimates Technical Paper
WHO/HIS/HSI/GHE/2014.7. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2014.
World Population Prospects The 2012 Revision, UN Department of Economic
and Social Affairs Population Division
Click to access WPP2012_%20KEY%20FINDINGS.pdf
Why North Korea has the lowest suicide rate in the world, Hanguk Story
Suicide is not an option in N. Korea: report, Yonhap
Suicide is not an option in N. Korea: report, Yonhap
Experts criticize WHO’s North Korea suicide stats, NKNews.org