Be it in South Korea or in other parts of the world, Finding the right mental healthcare can feel daunting. Since adolescence, I’ve struggled with my mental health. I felt different from my peers and isolated from the world. So, as someone who has struggled with my mental health for a long time without seeking help due to fear, moving to South Korea took a toll and I ended up in a dark place. Due to the difference in culture, beauty standards, and other things on my plate, my mental health took a dive for the worst.
In South Korea, there is still a deep social stigma surrounding mental health. In 2017, official estimates showed that 1 in 4 South Koreans experienced a mental disorder during their life. Yet, only 1 out of 10 went to seek help.
It is very likely that the numbers are even higher for the foreign population. We are away from friends and family, and for many of us, the pandemic made it impossible to visit our home country for more than three years. Many of us also experience traumatizing incidences such as workplace abuse that are detrimental to our mental health. Imagine seeking help in a place where you are frequently discriminated against and belittled. How terrifying it would be for some of them?
After hearing others’ experiences, my fear only tripled in size. It was only after my husband gave me that push I needed did I actually seek out professional help. It was the best decision I had ever made. So, I decided to write this article for those living in South Korea, foreigners or locals, to hopefully give them that same push.
After two years of living in Korea, my husband finally pushed for me to see a psychiatrist. I had no idea what to expect. There was a multitude of thoughts racing through my mind. The first thought that kept repeating itself was, “Do they speak English?” The second was, “Can I really do this?”
In Korea, it is always best to book an appointment beforehand to avoid long wait times. It is also a lot more reassuring the first time you go. I went to a psychiatric clinic in my area, so it was convenient for multiple visits. It was recommended that I ask the information desk if the doctor could speak English, or bring along a family member or friend to help with communication and emotional support. Thankfully, the psychiatrist spoke a bit of English and with my Korean level, we were able to communicate.
The moment she asked me the first question regarding my childhood, I burst into tears. After a while, the psychiatrist continued on with the questions. Then, she proceeded to take out a few sheets of paper. There were questionnaires for me to fill up. There were ones for depression, generalized anxiety disorder, mood disorder, and ADHD. We took the questionnaires and moved into another room to fill them out.
That was the first time I had visited any type of mental healthcare facility in my life. It was then that I found my fear to be irrational. The psychologist was nothing but kind, compassionate, and patient with me. Even with my poor command of Korean, they were sweet. After filling up the questionnaires, we passed them on to the nurse and paid for my session.
In total, we paid about 70,000won for the first session. If you have health insurance here in Korea, the first payment is not usually covered. If you do not have insurance, I suggest that you get some. It will reduce the cost of additional sessions and any medication you may need. As for myself, the psychiatrist prescribed me 2 weeks’ worth of medication for my insomnia. So, we went down to the pharmacy and I picked up my medication.
The cost of the medication was not that bad. It was less than 10,000won. The medicine seemed to work for a bit, but I had some weird side effects, so I decided to stop taking it after the first week. Be sure to tell your psychiatrist or another mental healthcare provider if you experience side effects that did not sit well with you.
At my next session, I brought my husband along, as I felt I needed emotional support because I was going to receive a diagnosis. We arrived at the appointed time and waited to see the doctor.
My heart was thumping in my chest the whole time I was waiting. The psychiatrist then informed me about the details of each condition, and I felt a sense of relief. My diagnosis was just as I thought; depression and ADHD.
After hearing the news, I finally thought to myself, “Everything makes sense now”. My psychiatrist then suggested that we treated my depression first before moving on to address my ADHD treatment. We all decided that it was the best route to go down. The second session was thankfully covered by my insurance. It cost us less than 10,000won.
After the second session, we proceed down to the same pharmacy to get the medications prescribed. The medications seemed to work for me, and now I am on a higher dose to help me further. There were some side effects, but none that were too serious. Just remember, if you experience any side effects at all, please talk about it with your psychiatrist.
For those of you who prefer the comfort of English-speaking mental healthcare providers, then I would suggest you try the Seoul Counseling Center. Founded by Dr. Chad Ebesutani, the Seoul Counseling Center has both US and UK-trained and licensed professional counselors who speak English, Korean, Hebrew, and Spanish. They are also culturally sensitive and LGBTQ + friendly. They even accept international insurances such as TRICARE, AXA, Aetna, Allianz Worldwide Care, and more.
The Seoul Counseling Center is located in Seoul, Pyeongtaek, and even online! It makes things easier that way for those who find it difficult to go there in person. Their fees are also on their website, so you will be able to gauge how much you might be spending.
Click here for the Seoul Counseling Center’s website
For those seeking counseling or a diagnosis, who feel more comfortable with Korean you can search the following on Naver maps to find a clinic near you:
Mental health is just as important as other forms of healthcare. How we feel is central to how we live. Without caring for our mental health, we cannot maintain good physical health. Despite the fear of discrimination due to societal stigma, I urge those in need to seek help.
It would not only benefit you, but it would also benefit the new life you are creating here and those around you. Be it foreigner or local, be not afraid. Self-care is valid. Self-care is important, and do not let anyone else tell you otherwise.