The Korea Herald


Emergency hospitalizations spike following knife attacks

By Moon Ki Hoon

Published : Sept. 7, 2023 - 18:27

    • Link copied

(Herald DB) (Herald DB)

The southern region of South Korea's most populous province saw a spike in emergency hospitalizations following a string of seemingly unprovoked violent crimes -- dubbed "mudjima" or don't-ask-why crimes -- this summer, a recent report the region's police agency found, suggesting heightened fears over a possible link between mental illness and violence.

According to the South Gyeonggi Provincial Police Agency, the South Gyeonggi region saw a 31 percent increase in emergency hospitalizations over the 40-day period from July 22 to August 30, with 285 cases reported across 21 police jurisdictions during the time frame.

The rise in cases overlapped with four stabbings and over 200 online threats of copycat crimes during the period.

South Korea's 2017 Mental Health Act specifies three methods of involuntary hospitalization -- emergency hospitalization, administrative hospitalization and protective custody -- depending on the party initiating the action.

Administrative hospitalization requires the approval of local administrative heads like mayors or governors upon request from medical professionals, while protective custody requires the approval of at least two guardians of the patient and two specialists from different hospitals. Emergency hospitalization, highlighted in the report, requires both police and a doctor’s approval, leading to temporary confinement of up to three days.

Some have complained that bureaucratic hurdles make South Korea's involuntary hospitalization procedures ineffective without patient cooperation. Calls to reform the Mental Health Act grew louder following the recent stabbing attacks, prompting the government to consider a more proactive approach.

Last month, the Justice Ministry announced it is considering introducing what it calls judicial hospitalization, which gives courts the authority to order the hospitalization of mentally ill individuals, without a doctor's approval, but done in consultation with a board of mental health experts, according to the ministry.

However, of the recent high-profile knife assaults, only two of the perpetrators -- one in Bundang and another in Daejeon -- had known histories of refusing mental health care.

While some mental health conditions may influence aggressive behavior, there is no scientifically established link between mental health issues and violent crime.