Time to focus on mental health
The author is an innovation lab reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Unfortunately, depression is still considered a far less serious illness than a heart attack or stomach cancer. If you apply for sick leave due to depression, people will say, “You are more sensitive than you look,” or “How can you survive the organization if you are so vulnerable?”
Depression is a condition that takes away one’s will to live. While interviewing patients dealing with depression, I heard the complaint, “Please don’t say that it is ‘a cold for the mind.’” While the phrase is intended to show how anyone can be afflicted with depression, the patients said it not fair to compare the serious condition with a common cold.
Depression among Koreans is more serious than you might think. According to the National Health Insurance Service, the number of patients treated for depression was 680,000 in 2017, up 16 percent from five years before. The number of depression patients per 100,000 people was 1,096 for those in their 20s and 1,054 for those in their 30s — remarkable increases up by nearly 50 percent compared to five years before.
Professor of mental health Na Hae-ran at the Catholic University of Korea’s Yeouido St. Mary’s Hospital said that young people — especially men in their 20s and 30s — coming in for therapy has increased drastically.
The main cause was the added burden for the social role for men such as getting a job or buying a house. Rather than being ashamed about depression and obsessing over keeping face, the young generation wants to address the issue for personal happiness and quality of life.
A number of books about people “coming out” about their depression have become bestsellers, and readers have been identifying with these stories.
From this year, a depression consultation is included in the national health checkup for people in their 20s and 30s, and companies like Lotte Department Store are promoting depression awareness campaigns.
Having achieved rapid growth while facing extreme competition, discords over conventional values, the wealth gap and generational divides, it is about time for Korea to focus on mental health.