[Letters] Fighting social PTSDIn contemporary Korean society, I can easily see socially abnormal behaviors among some Koreans. Several weeks ago, the urn containing the remains of the late actress Choi Jin-sil was stolen. The majority of people agreed that it was probably an obsessed fan. More recently, a woman residing in the southern part of Seoul was kidnapped by criminals who allegedly were copying the crimes of serial killer Kang Ho-sun. These cases are hardly acceptable and understandable to normal citizens.
These phenomena could be referred to as social post-traumatic stress disorder, or social PTSD, which is prevalent in Korean society. PTSD is an emotional illness that develops as a result of a terribly frightening, life-threatening or otherwise highly unsafe experience. I came to realize that PTSD, which is normally used to describe an individual’s experience, can also be applied to a social atmosphere. Due to the recent global financial crisis, Koreans have suffered from financial trouble and mental shock similar to after the IMF crisis in 1997, leading to societal PTSD. In my point of view, the irrational behavior of some Koreans, including the men who stole Choi’s ashes and kidnapped a woman in Seoul, can be explained by the group hysteria from the profound stress of the economic crisis.
Like the Russians, Japanese and Americans after the breakdown of Soviet Union, collapse of the economic bubble and Sept. 11 attacks, respectively, Koreans are currently in a great panic because Korean citizens lack iconic figures to guide them to psychological stability. Since they are not able to mentally depend on someone in times of adversity, they are more prone to struggle than those of other nations, leading to strange behaviors like the ones we’ve seen.
Under these circumstances, I believe that leading figures’ deep care for citizens in every aspect of society is the key to realizing the true noblesse oblige in contemporary Korean society. It requires the delicate hands of politicians enacting effective policies, religious leaders sending warm messages to their followers and entrepreneurs offering jobs to citizens and wide fringe benefits for workers. I, as a student interested in approaching social matters from a psychological perspective, will be watching the development of the social psychological issues, like social PTSD, and their countermeasures. Tak Geon-gyu, Dongducheon Foreign Language High School
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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