A mental health care routine is just as important as a skincare routine. Have you ever had a mental breakdown, panic attack, or dealt with insomnia? Most of us have or will struggle, with mental health issues at some point during our life.
Foreigners in Korea and Mental Health
Although it is still taboo in many circles, compared to just a few years ago it is becoming more common to talk about mental health. And, among foreigners in Korea, it’s a particularly important subject.
Many expats, immigrants, and students in Korea, experience a deterioration in their mental health. We are literally surrounded by anxiety, depression, and stress triggers. We are living in a homogeneous society and have just gone through a pandemic that has brought a lot of underlying issues to the surface. Plus, Korea is largely a country that is still in the process of opening its mind about mental health. Professional help can be difficult to access for Koreans, never mind foreigners. Prevention is key! So, let me guide you through my mental health care routine in South Korea.
Mental Health Care Routine Level 1: Meditate
I never tried meditation in my home country. However, in Korea, I found myself needing a break from the 빨리 빨리 (pali pali) lifestyle to just focus on myself. I started to meditate every morning after I had a couple of stress-related panic attacks. Now, it is an important part of my daily routine.
Meditation not only improves your concentration but also reduces stress and anxiety levels. I believe that anyone living a fast-paced life should do it. We know Korean apartments are not exactly roomy, but all you need is a comfortable area to sit on the floor, a cushion, and your headphones. You can find many guided meditations online or relaxing music depending on your preference. For me, 5 minutes a day is enough to give me the energy boost I need to live a Korean 빨리 빨리 (pali pali) day.
Level 2: Visit the Nature
Wherever you are in Korea, even in the middle of crowded cities like Seoul, you can find a park around. There is so much natural beauty in Korea. This is beneficial for so many reasons and your mental health is one of them.
Regularly connecting with nature helps reduce anxiety. So no matter how busy your day is, try to dedicate a few minutes to visiting your local park. Smell the trees, hear the birds, feel the breeze, and just let nature do its job of cleaning up your mind. I try to walk at least 30 minutes at my local park every day and it really helps me stay relaxed.
Mental Health Care Routine Level 3: Seek Pro Help
If your normal, everyday routine isn’t cutting it, don’t hesitate to seek out professional help. Visiting a psychiatric clinic is intimidating. But please remember that your mind can get hurt in the same way that your body can. And sometimes, you need a doctor. It is totally okay, and actually pretty easy to find a psychiatric clinic in Korea. For more information on accessing Mental Healthcare in South Korea, Click Here.
Looking for a clinic
On Naver maps, you can search “정신과” to find clinics near you. Most psychiatrists will speak basic English, but it is always better to bring a native Korean speaker with you. Most clinics are pretty similar. You just need to fill out some forms providing your basic information, wait for your turn, and explain your symptoms to the doctor. Then they will decide if you need further testing, or they will prescribe some medicine.
What to expect
From my own experience, Korean doctors prefer to do as many tests as possible rather than ask patients details about their symptoms. That’s how they work and is generally the standard of care in Korea. We just have to trust their medical abilities and follow their advice. Even if things might be different in your country, just try to stay calm. Follow the nurses, do all the required tests, and see what the doctor has to say. Personally, I feel like Korean doctors don’t explain as much as western doctors. Because of the culture, it might even be a bit rude to ask your doctor many questions. Again, that’s how things work here so we should try to go with the flow.
How Expensive are Psychiatric Clinics?
If you need medication, the clinic will give it to you. Usually, Korean pharmacies have a lot of restrictions so psychiatric medications are only sold at clinics. If you have national insurance, it will normally be subsidized and not very expensive. So, you can expect to pay around 15,000 for a typical visit. This includes your medication!
VERY IMPORTANT ADVICE
I respect and admire Korean doctors very much, but I feel obligated to give you this advice. Maybe it is because of cultural reasons, but I find the way some Korean doctors prescribe some medications to be concerning. Whenever you get some psychiatric medications, such as “benzos” or antidepressants please be extremely careful. If possible, double-check with your doctor back home on how you should take them.
Korean doctors do not seem to provide any guide on how to stop taking medications. My Korean doctor told me to just stop taking my medication whenever I felt better. However, according to my western doctor, the medication was highly addictive. I had to slowly reduce the medication over time before stopping completely to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
Level 4: Therapy
If you feel like you need it, it could also be helpful to regularly attend therapy. I personally feel more comfortable with a therapist from my home country, so I do it online. If there was one positive thing to come out of the pandemic, it is increased access to therapy from home.
But also, you can find good therapists in Korea. There are some English-speaking therapists in both Itaewon and Gangnam. However, therapy is not included in the National Healthcare System in Korea, so it will almost never be less than 70,000 won per session. But, if you feel like you need short-term, in-person therapy, Click Here to learn about the SGC psychology subsidy program.
Mental Health Care Routine Level 5: Break from Korea
We all agree that Korea is a wonderful country and we can love it but also need a break. Whether it be because of cultural differences, food, or any other reason – we will need some Korea-free time at some point. And that’s totally normal and fine!
Mini Break From Korea
Getting a break from Korea doesn’t mean you need to spend millions of won on a trip overseas. It can mean reconnecting with your roots or having a domestic getaway.
Whenever you feel overwhelmed by Korea, you can call friends and family back home, watch your favorite movie in your native language, or even splurge a little on some authentic food and snacks from your childhood. You can also reach out to foreign communities, such as Konnect, where you can find others who are going through the same challenges you are facing.
I feel like giving myself a rest from Korea is not only very healthy but necessary. It doesn’t mean that I don’t love Korea and don’t feel grateful for everything it has given me. But sometimes we just need to recharge our roots and release some stress before starting another bright new day in this beautiful country.