The Real Cost of Mental Illness Stigmas

김강산l승인2016.10.02l수정2016.10.08 19:59l349호 2면

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▲ Depression, anxiety, and paranoia can cause mental illness.

 The modern age has seen many developments intended on making our lives easier and the handling of our daily tasks, more convenient. However, can we arguably say this time has been easier on us mentally? Competition for jobs and even in relationships, have increased our stress levels dramatically. A recent study reports that 27.4 percent of people suffer from some form of mental illness over their lifetime. What’s worse is that those who know they are suffering, take too long to seek the help they need. On average, patients take 1.6 years, or about 84 weeks before they admit they need help. This is because of the social stigmas associated with psychiatric hospitals in Korea. The fear of being seen entering the doors, shuts people out.

In reality, those who need treatment avoid the mental health hospitals because they fear it would result in a black mark on their personal record, when trying to find a job. However, this fear is totally unfounded. Treatment records are only kept by the hospitals themselves and the National Health Insurance Corporation. The records are confidential, and released only with the express written consent of the patient themselves. Anyone violating this process and disclosing a patient’s private information is breaking the law. Moreover, when people receive counselling from a doctor, without any subsequent prescription medicine, the records are not maintained.

 As discussed, negative perceptions about mental health hospitals makes people hesitate before seeking out treatment. There are many forms of mental illness and the degree to which they impact the lives of a sufferer varies. However, one thing is clear, if people avoid treatment, the problems will only worsen. For example, stress can lead to depression and if left untreated, this can lead to suicide.

 Fortunately, the perception of mental health hospitals is starting to change as more and more people seek treatment. The number of people who visited a mental health hospital for treatment of depression was 601,152 in 2015, a 12.4 % increase as compared to 2011. The rise in visits has come mostly from office workers looking to unload stress during their lunch break or after work. In fact, 50 percent of mental health facilities Seoul are located in Gangnam, where there are many corporations.

 The government has also put in place, rules to lessen the psychological burden of seeking help.  In 2013, laws changed so that doctors were no longer required record a clinical name for whatever a patient is suffering, from unless it is a special circumstance, and people can use a general consultation card, when they demand healthcare insurance. Some insurance companies demanded records of your hospital visits and would give penalties to those seeking help for psychological reasons. The rules were intended to dissuade people from committing suicide.

 Despite these rule changes, and the gradual de-stigmatization of mental health issues, there remain quite a few people who hesitate to seek help. There are many places to find mental health help including telephone counseling. The important thing is to increase awareness of these support facilities, so that people appreciate how much help is readily available. The sick go to a doctor for treatment. It is imperative that people suffering from mental health issues see this as the same as treating their physical health. In the case of mental illness, ignoring the symptoms is simply not the best solution.


김강산  dankookherald@gmail.com
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