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Culture and suicide: Korean-Canadian immigrants’ perspectives

Christina S.E. Han (Social Science Researcher, based at Interdiciplinary Studies Graduate Program, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada)
John L. Oliffe (Professor, based at School of Nursing, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada)
John S. Ogrodniczuk (based at Department of Psychiatry, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada)

Ethnicity and Inequalities in Health and Social Care

ISSN: 1757-0980

Article publication date: 17 June 2013




The purpose of this paper is to describe culture- and context-specific suicidal behaviours among Korean-Canadian immigrants as a means to guiding the development of targeted culturally sensitive suicide prevention programmes.


Fifteen Korean-Canadian immigrants who had experiences with suicidal behaviours (e.g. suicidal ideation, suicide attempts) participated in this qualitative research study. Semi-structured interviews were conducted for 30-90 minutes individually and constant comparison analysis methods were used to inductively derive recurrent prevailing themes from the interview data.


The study findings reveal that causes and triggers for suicidal behaviours among Korean-Canadians most often emerged from academic and work pressures, estranged family and altered identities. Permeating these themes were deeply embedded cultural values, which according to the participants, could afford protection or heighten the risk for suicide.

Research limitations/implications

By focussing only on first-generation Korean-Canadian immigrants, the results are limited in what they can reasonably say about other Canadian immigrant sub-groups.

Practical implications

In light of the current research findings, mental health care providers should be cognizant of immigrant patients’ cultural backgrounds and life circumstances as a means to further understanding what underpins their risk for suicide.


Notwithstanding the aforementioned limitation, this study contributes important empirical insights about Korean-Canadian immigrants’ suicidal ideation and risk/protective factors. This not only adds to the wider literature connecting culture and suicidality, it affirms the need for culture-specific research as a means to developing culturally sensitive mental health services.



This study was made possible by the School of Nursing, University of British Columbia's Lyle Creelman Endowment fund (Received in December 2011). Special thanks to the 15 Korean-Canadian who participated in this research study.


S.E. Han, C., L. Oliffe, J. and S. Ogrodniczuk, J. (2013), "Culture and suicide: Korean-Canadian immigrants’ perspectives", Ethnicity and Inequalities in Health and Social Care, Vol. 6 No. 2/3, pp. 30-42.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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