What Koreans really think about mental health – 한국인들이 정말로 정신 건강에 대해 생각하는 것

While I was away, many of the people I met asked me why I was planning on moving to Korea. Rather than explaining it to you all again, I’ll direct you to my post about it here. However, while I was in Korea I wasn’t able to simply link a previous post into the conversation so I tried to explain (in very broken Korean and Konglish) how I care very deeply about raising awareness of mental health issues and about campaigning for better mental well-being. I also explained how I was interested in Korean culture and history, and how I made the decision that I wanted to move and work in South Korea after hearing about the suicide rates in South Korea.

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Now this came as a huge surprise to many of the people I spoke too, as they didn’t expect a foreigner to care that much about the mental well being of their country. But everyone I spoke to said they knew it was an issue. In 2016, a report by  The Journal of Korean Medical Science  revealed that 6,768 males and 12,475 females from a sample population of 200,000 participants in South Korea experienced suicidal thoughts. 314 males (4.6%) and 481 females (3.9%) in the sample groups shared they had attempted suicide in the past. And a national survey in 2016 revealed that 6.4 percent  of Koreans currently living in South Korea had the impulse to commit suicide, citing economic difficulty (35.5%) and family problems (14.4%) as their main reasons. And the issue isn’t limited to those living in South Korea. Koreans living in other countries also face similar hardships.

I was fortunate enough to meet some wonderful people through the church I attended. One wonderful connection I made was when I visited Seoul Cathedral with the vicar of my church and met the Bishops of Seoul and Daejon. Whilst looking around the Cathedral and having lunch with them, I learned that they had lost members of their congregation, friends and family to suicide. I could see how much it broke their hearts, and they were so excited when I spoke about wanting to work to help people in Korea.

34345868_10216623748576332_2630524686907211776_nSomething else I noticed, when speaking about mental health with the people I met, was that everyone said they knew it was a problem, they said they felt it was to do with societal pressure and stress, but they didn’t say much more about it. The conversation often just ended there.  I hope next time I visit I can have a more in depth discussion about their own experiences or what to do if their loved ones seem to be struggling. Something I noticed about the Korean mindset was that, no matter what else might be going on, you carried on like nothing was wrong. If you’d had no sleep, if you were sick or hungover, if everything else was going wrong, you carried on. It was a thing to be proud of. I might write about it a bit more in more depth at another time, but I think it comes under the concept of saving face or ‘체면이 서다’.

Anyway, I think its clear that South Korean people know that mental health is an issue, but there isn’t much of an opportunity to discuss it openly. If I can help with that in some small way, I will be sure that my move there is worthwhile.

Please let me know what you think about this. Leave me a comment, or send me a message through social media.

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