Mental checkups welcomedWe welcome the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s timely plan to provide all citizens with regular medical checkups on their mental conditions from next year to help them maintain mental health through its “comprehensive program.” The need for effectively managing mental health has been raised as depression emerged as a serious social problem, as evidenced by Korea’s highest suicide rate among OECD member nations. In that respect, we expect that the government’s ambitious program will play a positive role in detecting people’s mental illnesses at an early stage as well as successfully treating and preventing them.
In a mental illness test last year for people over the age of 18, 14.4 percent - up from 12.6 percent in 2006 - suffered from various types of psychological diseases. A startling 31.2 out of 100,000 people committed suicide, and 75.3 percent of those who attempted suicide have experienced mental illness.
Yet only 15.3 percent of those mentally ill received professional counseling or medical treatment. It also took almost two years - 1.61 years to be precise - for mental patients to go to the hospital for treatment.
What made mental patients unattended is no doubt prevalent social discrimination. Even if one has a medical record with just a slight degree of depression, he or she is heavily disadvantaged when trying to find a job or take up an insurance policy. As a result, the government took steps to narrow the scope of mental illness by excluding slight depression from the category of mental diseases. It is a desirable direction as the government measure has paved the way for abolishing health discrimination.
The problem is how to overcome the public’s resilient prejudice against mental disorders. Some people raise questions on the credibility of medical surveys primarily based on mail responses, while others complain about their mental health condition being exposed to a third party. There are also worries about the possibility that medical records of individuals’ mental health will likely be used for malicious purposes at times of employment, promotion and education.
Therefore, the Ministry of Health and Welfare needs to get rid of the social bias against mental illnesses by first explaining that anyone is susceptible to mental disorders, not to mention the strong need to thoroughly control individual medical records.