Suicidal ideation among North Korean refugees in South Korea: Exploring the influence of social network characteristics by gender

Mee Young Um, Eric Rice, Jungeun Olivia Lee, Hee Jin Kim, Lawrence A. Palinkas

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    6 Scopus citations

    Abstract

    Rates of death by suicide among North Korean refugees are three times higher than those among their host-country counterparts in South Korea. However, social and cultural factors predicting suicidality among North Korean refugees are not well known. Thus, we explored how social networks affect suicidal ideation in a sample of 405 North Korean refugees in South Korea using egocentric network data. Network diversity (number of different types of ties) was a protective factor for suicidal ideation among women. Having a help-providing and trustworthy church-based tie was a protective factor for women, whereas it was a risk factor for men. It is likely that women connected to people in diverse social contexts received more support to effectively deal with adversities. Because South Korean churches provide tailored worship services and financial aid to North Korean refugees, women might receive emotional comfort from church-based ties whom they can trust and receive help from, whereas men might become distressed about being financially dependent on others, which contradicts cultural expectations of a man’s traditional role. Our findings have implications for mental health practitioners serving vulnerable populations, and highlight the importance of understanding the cultural context of social networks and gender in suicide research.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)52-62
    Number of pages11
    JournalTranscultural Psychiatry
    Volume59
    Issue number1
    DOIs
    StatePublished - Feb 2022

    Keywords

    • North Korean refugees
    • South Korea
    • gender
    • social network analysis
    • suicidal ideation

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Health(social science)
    • Psychiatry and Mental health

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