In 2021, a staggering number of suicide deaths reached 13,205, of which 5,258 underwent mental health treatment, according to police data presented by Representative Oh Young Hwan. This same report yielded that of this total suicide statistic, 888 were in the age bracket of 10-29.
These figures show that the number of young people in Korea with mental illness is growing, and suicide is the number one cause of death among people under 30 in 2021, as reported by Statistics Korea.
Awareness has been generated by media discussing panic disorder and depression, especially since some celebrities have chosen to be open about suffering from these. Last year, BTS‘s RM shared in a live broadcast for his birthday that “every day’s a fight” against depression. He made time for wellness activities to support his mental and physical health, like exercising, watering plants, and reading.
Also, last year, TWICE‘s Jeongyeon took a hiatus to heal from “panic and psychological anxiety” for an indefinite period, to focus on healing and rest.
Former Wanna One member Kang Daniel took a three-month hiatus in 2019 due to panic disorder, anxiety and depression and sought treatment for these during his break.
Despite these publicized reports of celebrities suffering from mental health issues, the stigma on mental health remained, causing afflicted individuals to miss out on getting timely treatment.
According to the Health Insurance Review & Assessment Service, panic disorder and depression prevalence have risen to alarming levels in recent years. People treated for depression jumped 35.1 percent from 691,164 in 2017 to 933,481 in 2021. The data further showed a rapid increase among younger Koreans, with depression rising 127.1 percent among those in their twenties, 90.2 percent for teens, and 67.3 percent for those in their thirties. For panic disorder, there is an 86.7 percent increase for those in their twenties and 78.5 percent among teens.
The numbers continue to climb as many remain hesitant to seek help, fearing the impact of mental health treatment on their reputation. Professor of psychology at Seoul National University Hospital, Park Jee Eun, recently analyzed over six million social media messages from 2016-2019 to determine why people avoid assistance for mental illness. She shared that 25.9 percent of teens fear going to psychiatrists will affect their chances for college entrance, while 14.4 percent fear being perceived as a “crazy person.”
Some in their twenties were worried that potential employers might see their medical records, and those in their thirties and forties were concerned about having adverse effects on their insurance policies. Professor Park reiterates that the lack of publicly accessible information should be addressed to educate the public and erase the stigma.
Experts (in the field of mental health) should approach the public and make efforts to spread the relevant information from the public’s point of view. There is no reason at all for any mystery to exist about psychotherapy.
— Professor Park Jee Eun
The study Awareness, Attitude, and Impact of Perceived Depression in the Workplace in Korea by the Korean Neuropsychiatric Association revealed a negative perception toward being treated for mental illness existed among workers in Korea. The researchers asked 1,000 working respondents aged 16-64 what they would do if they learned a colleague was suffering from depression. The leading response was that they would avoid such conversation, thus indicating that mental illness is a sensitive issue. The researchers concluded that a program to detect depression at an early stage should be in place to prevent lowering productivity resulting from presenteeism
To prevent the lowering of productivity due to presenteeism at Korean workplaces, there should be a sufficient program to detect depression at its early stage, along with a proper system to request help and support the patients
— Korean Neuropsychiatric Association