An uncomfortable truth

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An uncomfortable truth

Korea is an unhappy country. According to a recent survey on quality of life by a U.S. research agency, Korea ranked 75th among 135 countries - lower than the Philippines (40th), India (71th) and Iraq (73rd). In a survey on subjective categories - how Koreans feel about life goals, social relations, economic situations, community safety and individual pride - 86 percent showed negative responses, including “struggling” and “suffering.”

The objective category fared no better. Compared with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s 34 member countries, Korea ranked 33rd in the people’s happiness index, 31st in the welfare index, and the lowest in birth rates - not to mention the highest in suicide rates. While Korea has been a consistent frontrunner in negative areas such as the elderly poverty and industrial accident rates, it ranks bottom in positive areas. In a report released earlier this week by the Disease Control Center under the Ministry of Health and Welfare, 12.9 percent of Korean adults have suffered depression to varying degrees over the past year, with the women’s rate - 16.5 percent - much higher than men’s 9.1 percent.

Depression is a national disease. The World Health Organization has defined it as one of major causes for triggering various types of disorders in the way people think, act and make judgments. A study shows that as many as 80 percent of suicides result from depression. The number of patients with the disease has increased by a whopping 77 percent over the last decade, and more than half of these have thought about committing suicide.

After analyzing the patterns of depression in Korea, a psychiatrist at Samsung Medical Center in downtown Seoul said, “Koreans have more melancholiacs - a type of depressive patients with a higher risk of suicide - than in other countries. Their treatment is difficult as they don’t express their mental illness.”

A larger problem is that Koreans strive to live with their disease without making an effort to treat it. A Centers for Disease Control survey showed that only one out of 10 sought a psychiatric help. One of the biggest reasons for shunning medical help was “social prejudice” against those with mental illnesses. Many are tempted to give up psychiatric treatment in order to avoid having medical records that might hurt their career.

Such a hypocritical attitude, coupled with people’s intervention in others’ lives, make depressive patients suffer silently. Our society must encourage them to come out of the closet and seek professional help.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 18, Page 34

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