By Su Bin Cho
In just four hours, this Facebook post received 110 thousand likes. I saw the same post copied and pasted onto many other pages appear in my newsfeed because so many of my fellow Korean friends were tagging each other in the comments. It read: “These days, you are disabled if you cant have a boyfriend or girlfriend” This sort of judgment happens every minute of every day.
In South Korea, the social networking service usage has reached a record-setting sixty percent of its population, ranking first in Asia and fourth in the world. Observing the internet landscape gives an idea of how the Korean society at large perceives mental illnesses. A vast majority of Korean ‘netizens’ (network citizens) do not seem to know that their lighthearted tag-plays are only widening their social distances toward mental illness. What is worse is that these ‘netizens’ who consider mental illness as a punch line constitute mostly of adolescents and young adults. This alone shows how the country has failed to provide public education on the accurate portrayal of mental health. Ignorant labels that deride people who actually suffer from mental disorders reveal that the stigma against mental illnesses will be almost indelible in the near future. Something must be done not just for a better self-concept of the mentally ill, but also to help progress into a truly awakened nation.
The radical remedy to this problem is examining the mode of thought of Korean society. Many of modern Korea’s problems can be traced back to Confucianism, which stresses homogeneity, interdependence, conservatism, and social hierarchy. As Korea underwent extremely rapid modernization and economic development, the clash of Western culture and deeply rooted Confucianism has produced disoriented mindsets of the people. Korea has the highest suicide rate among OECD members; people befriend their smartphones, not real humans; women show an obsessive reliance on plastic surgery to boost their low self-esteem. The society is ill because its people are psychologically unstable despite the extraordinary progress we have made at the national level. Being mentally healthy and embracing those with disorders are foremost virtues laid aside.
The key to reducing the social distance we have toward maintenance of mental health and the concept of mental illnesses is public education. This has to be done both at school and corporate levels in order to prevent subconscious disparaging of mental fitness.