Psychiatric counseling to be kept off the record

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Psychiatric counseling to be kept off the record

Lee, a 29-year-old assistant researcher, suffers from bouts of depression, anxiety and insomnia due to pressure from work and family. “I really want to seek psychiatric therapy because I feel such a heavy burden on my chest.”

She has wanted to do so for the past two years but still has only called up clinics for appointments without actually following through.

“I am afraid it might leave a permanent record. I don’t want my workplace to find out. And if I marry, I don’t want my husband’s family to find out and think there is something wrong with me.”

The Ministry of Health and Welfare announced yesterday that it plans to keep psychiatric consultation and therapy sessions that do not include prescriptions off the record, regardless of the number of sessions.

Health officials state that the move is intended to decrease the public aversion toward psychiatric treatment that stems from the social stigma associated with mental health issues.

Starting from April 1, the ministry said that it will allow patients to have their mental health therapy sessions, or F code, marked as general health consultation, or Z code, in their medical insurance records.

This new measure will only be applicable to patients who seek psychiatric treatment for the first time, not pre-existing patients.

“The idea is to lower the bar for people who want to seek treatment for mental health issues and help ease the fears that they feel about being judged by their work or by society,” said mental health policy official Yoo Dong-wook.

“The average time for Koreans between diagnosis of a mental condition and treatment is 84 weeks, compared to 30-50 weeks for other developing nations,” he added. “We need to shorten that period.”

According to a 2011 study, the ministry said that only 15.3 percent of Korean patients diagnosed with a mental condition have sought psychiatric treatment, compared to 39.2 percent in the United States.

Lee Sang-kyu, professor of psychiatry at the Hallym University Medical Center’s Chuncheon Sacred Heart Hospital, said,

“Some 80-90 percent of the patients that seek consultation are like you and me, those who have insomnia, or stress. And those with a more serious diagnosis can get the help they need, such as medication and further treatment.”



By Sarah Kim [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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