Depression should be treatedDepression is a sickness that needs not only medical treatment but also our society’s heartfelt care. In Korea, reportedly 1.1 million people suffer from the disorder, and 3.6 percent of the entire population experienced it in last year, compared to the world average of 1 percent.
Yet Korean society discriminates against sufferers by law regardless of the degree of the disorder. Our law on mental health treats depression exactly the same as much more serious and debilitating mental diseases like schizophrenia, auditory hallucinations or delusions. As a result, they are extremely disadvantaged when applying for a driver’s license or other certificates, not to mention when trying to find a job or purchase an insurance policy. According to the JoongAng Ilbo’s latest report, they become helpless victims to as many as 77 types of disadvantages in legal terms alone.
A bigger problem is that many sufferers from depression choose to shirk medical assistance precisely to avoid such types of discrimination. And yet, depression is one of the most dangerous illnesses in medical and social terms because it can, and often does, lead to suicide. Experts point out that Korea’s high suicide rate - 31.2 deaths per 100,000 - is related to the patients’ reluctance to seek medical help for fear of legal and social discrimination. In other words, most of the suicides from depression could have been prevented if those people had received proper treatment at a hospital. In fact, only 15.3 percent of people with mental disorders are treated in Korea.
In that sense, we welcome the government’s decision to revise the law on mental diseases to distinguish those who suffer light symptoms of depression, panic disorder, anxiety disorder and insomnia from the category of mental patients in legal terms. We hope the amendment will help many patients with mental disorders to seek medical assistance to treat their disease.
The government’s decision to revise the law is a reflection of global standards. The United States puts a ban on any type of discrimination against mental patients by law and any discrimination without stating a specific reason is considered criminal and is subject to punishment.
We hope the amendment will help shape a better society where mental patients do not have to suffer discrimination and can voluntarily seek medical help. All types of mental disorders with minor symptoms should be cured, not neglected. We should wonder if our society is treating those who fight their mental illnesses in the same way as those who struggle to survive cancer.