Fulbright Forum – May 24, 2013

Joanne Cho

Cultural and Social Influences on South Korea’s Suicide Epidemic

Research Summary:
South Korea is a country unlike any other, having gone through extremely rapid economic, social and political changes at a speed never before seen in history. Education, technology and economy in particular have flourished, making South Korea among the wealthiest, most educated and technologically advanced countries in the world. However, cultural and social attitudes and beliefs have not been able to match the speed of modernization, giving birth to a multitude of social problems that have risen as a result. Among these, suicide in particular has increased at alarming rates in recent years, particularly among the younger population, resulting in South Korea now having one of the highest rates in the world. In order to understand this problem, one must begin by developing a strong understanding of the economic, historical, social, and most importantly, cultural influences behind South Korea’s suicide epidemic.

Upon arriving in Seoul, Joanne began collaborating with professors from various universities throughout Korea in departments ranging from public health and cultural anthropology to clinical and social psychology. With their guidance, she started interviewing study participants as well as professionals currently conducting research on suicide in South Korea. Through these interviews and her own individual studies into Korea’s history, society and culture, Joanne began establishing a groundwork understanding of the issues surrounding suicide. She has been focusing in particular on how cultural and historical influences have shaped modern Korean society, and how these in turn affect social and familial relationships as well as attitudes regarding mental health. In addition, she has been studying the hypercompetitive educational and employment systems which have become a major source of stress and pressure in Korea today. Joanne hopes to come up with a two level solution to the suicide issue: one that can be implemented at the policy level, and a micro level solution that can be employed by individuals.

Joanne Jeeyoung Cho began college as a violin performance major, but eventually graduated with a B.A. in Philosophy in 2006 from the University of California, Los Angeles. She then entered graduate school at the University of Southern California where she received a Masters of Public Health in 2009 with a concentration in Health Promotion and Education. She has since continued to conduct research in various public health topics, focusing mostly on issues related to cancer, tobacco and childhood obesity, while also serving on staff at the USC Department of Preventive Medicine and the UCLA Department of Neurosurgery. Upon completion of her Fulbright grant, Joanne will begin medical school this fall, where she hopes to continue researching health related topics with strong cultural and social implications and influences.