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    More help needed

    Yoon Min-sik

    ANN/KOREA HERALD – Two-hundred and fifty-six. That’s the number of people between the age of 10 and 20 that took their lives due to mental health problems last year.

    Of a total of 13,205 deaths by suicide in 2021, some 5,258 had histories of mental health treatment, according to police data provided by Representative Oh Young-hwan of the main opposition Democratic Party.

    The same data shows that the number of suicides aged 10-29 age groups jumped each year from 2019, with the figure for the latter marking 888 as of 2021.

    The figures indicate that a growing number of young people in Korea are suffering from mental illness, with increasingly fatal results.

    Suicide was the number one cause of death among people under 30 in 2021, according to Statistics Korea.

    With the media talking more about panic disorder and depression, particularly related to celebrities suffering from it, awareness of the hazards of mental problems is rising among the general public.

    But stigmatisation toward such illness remains on some level within Korean society, causing people to miss out on the critical golden hour for treatment.

    MORE PEOPLE SUFFERING FROM MENTAL ISSUES

    Actor Lee Byung-hun recently revealed that he had suffered from panic disorder in the past, describing an attack he suffered on a plane headed to the United States.

    A few years ago K-pop star Kang Daniel ceased all work at the height of his popularity due to panic disorder and depression. He later said he felt he was “losing all will to live”.

    The prevalence of panic disorder or depression has risen steadily in recent years. The number of people treated for depression jumped 35.1 per cent from 691,164 in 2017 to 933,481 in 2021, according to the Health Insurance Review & Assessment Service.

    Over the same period, the number treated for panic disorder went from 653,694 to 865,108.

    The data showed a rapid increase among younger Koreans. Depression rose 127.1 per cent increase among 20-somethings, 90.2 per cent for teens, and 67.3 per cent for 30-somethings, while the number treated for panic disorder increased 86.7 per cent increase for those in their 20s and 78.5 per cent among teens.

    One of the problems of mental illness is that they often come together, and this can make patients’ conditions more severe. Jeon Hong-jun, assistant professor of psychiatry at Konkuk University Medical Center, found in his 2020 study that not only was panic disorder patients more likely to have agoraphobia but having both illnesses was likely to increase patient suffering.

    “The findings suggest that patients with PDA (panic disorder patients with agoraphobia) experienced more severe panic symptoms, more profound psychiatric comorbidity, and worse illness progression than those with PD (panic disorder patients without agoraphobia),” Jeon wrote.

    PDA patients were also more likely to be younger at the age of onset, take benzodiazepines for longer periods, and be treated with antipsychotics.

    SOCIAL STIGMATISATION AND RELUCTANCE TOWARD TREATMENT

    Despite the surge in mental health treatment, many are still hesitant to seek help, fearing that being treated for mental illness would leave a stain on one’s reputation.

    A professor of psychology at Seoul National University Hospital, Park Jee-eun recently announced the results of her research on why people avoid help for mental illness, through an analysis of six million social media messages shared from 2016 to 2019.

    She said 25.9 per cent of the teens avoided going to psychiatrists out of fear that it will affect college entrance, while 14.4 per cent were afraid of looking like “a crazy person”.

    About 22.4 per cent of 20-somethings were concerned about the medical records being seen by potential employers. Among those in their 30s and 40s, 22.1 per cent said they were concerned their medical records would have negative effects on their insurance policies, while 14.8 per cent feared being labelled crazy.

    They have grounds for their concern. In August, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea recommended two local insurance companies allow those being treated for depression to purchase their insurance programmes. One company said the person can enter a screening process a year after one had been off medication, while the other company flat-out refused.

    “My friend advised me to get treatment without health insurance, saying it would leave a record and leave a bad impression on human resources.

    I didn’t do that, but I didn’t tell my supervisors either,” said a Seoul-based worker in his 30s who recently got treated for depression and panic disorder.

    Professor Park pointed out the lack of publicly-accessible information on treatment as a reason the general public is hesitant to seek psychological help.

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