Brief Ideas: Mental Health in South Korea


We visited Foyer Federation on 24th November 2016. The Foyer Federation is xxxx. In teams we discussed issues around mental health in young people, and how that relates to homelessness. Listening to young people speak up about their experiences facing stigma and issues around the lack of support UK NHS really opened my eyes.

From a personal perspective the concept mental health was unfamiliar to me. Coming from a Korean background I believed mental health something that should be discussed and dealt with in private as topic is considered taboo.  The session helped me to to reflect on my Korean background and examine how Korean society deals with mental health.



According to a report by Korean NeuroPsychiatric Association, three out of 10 adults experience mental health problems more than once throughout their lifetime. While 27.6% of Koreans experience mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety disorder, alcohol use disorder, and nicotine use disorder more than once in their lifetime, only 15% of them are treated or counselled at any one time. This means that 85% of the Korean population is suffering from mental health issues without without any treatment or assistance. In an even more shocking statistic 80% of untreated people do not even know they have mental health problems.

Another issues is that Korea’s suicide rate has been the highest in the FULL NAME (OECD) for decades. The OECD makes a clear link between suicide and mental health issues in South Korea.
“Suicide is often used as a proxy indicator of the mental health status of a population. It can play an important role in better understanding the weaknesses of the mental health system, in particular surrounding access to services and combating stigma. While care should be taken in drawing too many inferences from suicide rates, Korea’s very high suicide rate should be seen as a call for action around mental ill-health.”                                  – Making mental health count by OECD, 2014

While this the social taboo of mental health is changing slowly, with various TV series and celebrities tackling issues of mental health, the overwhelming inclination is for Koreans to just ‘deal with’ their with mental health problems and ‘get over it’.

With the Korean mental health perception still in its infancy, it is critical to challenge the negligent state that comes from ingrained misbeliefs of mental health care in South Korea.


Project Outline

How might I challenge the ingrained prejudices on mental health in South Korea?

How might I help Koreans shift their attitudes and strong taboos surrounding mental health?

How might I help Koreans embrace different views on mental health?




  1. Menboong Amenities: Embrace the value of your mental.

Menboong is short for ‘mental boonggwe’ which is a combination of ‘mental’ and the Korean word for ‘breakdown’ or ‘collapse’. ‘Menboong’ is simply used during those moments when you feel like you’ve ‘lost your mind’, are left in surprise, or things that are hard to cope with. People use the word to describe their ‘mental collapse’ readily, but always with a sense of irony. However, people avoid discussing their real mental health issues.

The role of menboong project is to motivate people who use this word a lot without any awareness of their mental health. It is targeted at young people especially those who use this word often, and advises them to pay more attention to the mental health of themselves and others.

Messages to be delivered

  • You don’t have bear it alone
  • Do not tell others to get over/ignore it.
  • Mental health is everyone’s business/issue.
  • Mental health is diagnosable.
  • Mental health is not something you just “get over”


  1. Using fitness fever Irony to shift the attitude of mental health care:
    “I go to Mental Health Club”

Since there has always been more emphasis placed on academics than athletics, outdoor sports are not a common thing in Korean society. But as ‘well-being’ emerged as a new lifestyle trend, people are putting more emphasis on physical health. In recent times there has been a ‘fitness fever’, therefore PT(personal training) gyms have become a cultural trend. People sweating in fitness centre in the late hours after work can found all over South Korea.

In Korean, it is more general to call Fitness centre as ‘health club’ and it varies in different kinds e.g. 1:1 training gym, cross-fit gym, Pilates and etc. So why not offer a mental health club? The aim is to point out the ironic gap between physical and mental health and to challenge the social stigma on mental health.


>>> Compare going to psychiatrist/counsellor as going to gym working out.



Rebranding mental health

Mental health is cool.



  1. palette your colour.

Check his exhibition

Inspiration board. <Invisible land of love>
Ahn routes us to a journey to the ‘land of love’ by revealing ‘invisible’ thoughts that were hidden behind overflowing images and sensory stimulation around us and calling out the names of things we have lost.
As Ahn comments that “this project will be full of blanks ought to be filled by the viewers.” it challenges them to return a response to the artist’s questions. This exhibition is not a complete work, but rather an open process transformed over viewer participation. In the contradictory act of creating an ‘arena’ by ‘vacating the exhibition hall’, viewers become active force not passive spectators establishing an ‘invisible’ symbol of bond and community.





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