Go to contents

[Opinion] Psychiatry

Posted October. 14, 2008 06:46,   


Many people in advanced countries see psychiatrists when faced with a disaster or the sudden death of a loved one. Through professional care, patients want to remove scars left by trauma or grief. Most do not feel ashamed to visit a shrink. Professional golfers often seek psychiatric help to relieve the mental stress and burden stemming from poor performances. According to their psychology, the soul is not separate from the body.

The story is quite different in Korea, where a major stigma surrounds the idea of visiting a psychiatrist. Many never tell anyone about seeking mental treatment. They worry over psychiatry’s negative connotation and prejudice getting them labeled as “insane.” Most people in Korea are unaware of the numerous and diverse disorders and symptoms treated by psychiatry. Conditions to be treated include schizophrenia, depression, anxiety disorder, anthropophobia, stress-related disorders as well as alcohol and Internet addictions and learning disabilities.

In the United States, the division between neurology and psychiatry became explicit between the 1950s and 1960s. Psychiatry in Korea was called neuropsychiatry until 1982, when the Korea Neurological Association broke away from the Korea Neuropsychiatric Association. Most shrinks in Korea who got their licenses prior to 1982 call themselves neuropsychiatrists. Thanks to a medical breakthrough in cerebral science studies, however, more doctors offer both psychiatric and neurological treatments in the United States.

In the wake of high-profile suicides, the Korean Neuropsychiatric Association is seeking another name for psychiatry chiefly to remove the stigma associated with mental treatment. Depression is so common that it is called “the cold of the mind,” but is easily treatable. Failure to treat depression can lead to grave consequences such as acting on a suicidal impulse. Ninety percent of depressed patients are reportedly going without treatment. For the sake of saving lives and improving quality of life, giving a new name to psychiatry isn’t a bad idea at all.

Editorial Writer Gwon Sun-taek (maypole@donga.com)