Seoul's most popular suicide bridge has been revamped with inspirational messages of hope that light up as people walk by.
Of all the countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), South Korea has by far the highest suicide rate — 28.4 per 100,000 people per year, making it the most common cause of death for people under 40. And one bridge over the Han River, the Mapo Bridge, has been dubbed the Bridge of Death for its popularity among those seeking to end their own life. Between 2007 and 2012, over 100 people attempted suicide from Mapo Bridge.
To try to counteract the number of deaths from the Mapo Bridge, the Seoul City government didn't build a high fence or barrier; instead, it took a different path, with handrails that speak directly to passersby.
As people walk by, the handrail, using motion sensors, lights up, showing inspirational messages crafted with the help of psychologists and suicide prevention specialists, as well as photos of happy families and people.
"How have you been? Have you eaten? If you need to talk, why don't you talk to us?" the bridge asks, with a number for a suicide hotline. Some have criticised the bridge, believing that photos of families could trigger someone who was deeply missing a deceased family member. Dr Kim Hyun-chung, a psychiatrist at the National Medical Center in Seoul, said, "It might make someone more sad, because maybe they lost a child. It could be someone they miss very much and want to go with them."
However, according to the Seoul City government, the suicide rate from Mapo Bridge has dropped 77 per cent, and the bridge is now one of the city's most popular walking spots.
The government has dubbed it the Bridge of Life.
Of course, the next step is probably an in-depth analysis of why the suicide rate in South Korea is so high and then addressing the actual root cause of the crisis ... but this is something, and it's a start.
For suicide support or information, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit the Lifeline website.