So, before we begin, we just want to state how hesitant we were to talk about this topic. It’s a sensitive topic, and I know that some keyboard warriors get very defensive when we talk about issues in Korea. We saw this topic come up a few times in the questions you send us, and we figured that now, after we’ve done a couple lighthearted topics, we could tackle this subject, without our TL;DRs seeming too overwhelmingly serious. Serious topics are great at times, but put up too many in a row and people will start thinking of you differently. More awkward stories and fart jokes are needed to water down the severity.

Back to talking srsly: what surprises us the most about discussions on mental health in Korea is the lack of talk about it from Korean teachers. ADHD is a fairly open topic to discuss, from our experiences at least, as teachers in Canada. In Canada, before we stepped into any classroom we taught we’d be given a list of all of the special needs of the students in the class. For instance, I once had a student in Canada who needed all of his handouts to be printed on blue paper. In Korea, we weren’t given any such reports. We were just warned about bad students. That’s it. The students who we saw had ADHD weren’t accommodated by teachers, just ignored, or thought of as bad seeds. Students with autism were also just left to their own devices. Any talk about special needs for students was met with blank stares. Maybe it was just our schools. Maybe things have changed since then. I hope they have, because there are students in Korea who need help and aren’t getting it.

Outside of the classroom, though, this is a topic that we have very little experience with in Korea. We haven’t experienced any counselling services here, and so we can’t compare them to the ones we received ourselves while we were in Canada. When we asked people here in Korea who have friends in universities, though, we were told that very little in terms of services are offered. Is that the case for all universities? I’m not sure. Hell, I’m not even sure if all universities in Canada offer counselling services. We do know that they were really important to us when we needed them. In our video Martina talked about her use of counsellors. I was going to a counsellor right up until I met Martina as well. Both of us benefitted greatly from our counsellors, and we wouldn’t be where we are today if it weren’t for the help we got. Especially considering the high suicide rate in Korea, a more open and accepting approach to counselling wouldn’t hurt. Soo Zee says it’s starting to happen in morning shows more. Hopefully we can see the topic approached more broadly from now on.

Since we don’t know that much more about it, and can’t really say more about the topic, if you’ve got anything to share, any info you can give, now’s the time to share. Any places you know of that are useful, any services that you know that are offered now, let us know, and hopefully other readers here can use that info if they need it.

Anyhow, if you liked this video, and want to see us talk more about our experiences in Korea, you should subscribe! We just passed the 400,000 subscriber mark today. Huzzah! Time to start planning out a video to celebrate! Till then, you should click on the button below if you haven’t already:

  1. I realize that this is a couple months after the video was posted, but I wanted to say something about this because of my experience as both a student in Canada and South Korea. I have OCD, general and social anxiety, as well as a tendency for depression; due to this, a psychologist I was seeing recommended some accommodations during my time at university, which Queens wholehearted granted me, along with a few others that the counsellors there thought would benefit me. There was an entire department designated to helping students dealing with mental illnesses and making arrangements for them with their professors (ie. coordinating for a student to write an exam in a separate room). Professors were always informed of these accommodations, but never questioned them.

    In my third year, I went on exchange to Korea University. Not wanting to leave things to the last minute, I asked the North American contact (about three months in advance) who to contact about my mental illness and my accommodations from a psychologist – I even sent him the letter from the psychologist and the Queens list of accommodations. He didn’t give me anybody to contact but said he would pass on the papers to the right people. When I got to the University, I wasn’t told of anybody I could contact and was told that the best I could do was tell the professors that I usually get accommodations and it was up to them to decide what I would have. Most of them were fairly good, although none really understood WHY I needed them, even if I tried to explain. During midterms, I had three in the same day (while one of my accommodations was to only ever have one exam per day) and no teacher was willing to change their midterm; because I was so stressed, I didn’t write any of them. I emailed somebody from the department for exchange students when I calmed down enough and they referred me to somebody else, who referred me to another person who then asked me to come in the next day. I never got to see an actual psychologist because there was no program in place for exchange/foreign students with mental illness to go to or contact – there was a very small one with a resource room for Korean students, however.

    I try to be very open about my OCD and anxiety, so I tell most of my friends. Whenever I told Korean friends though, a lot of them didn’t know what I was talking about.

    Long story short: I have a mental illness and it was easily recognized and accommodated for in Canada. When in Korea, I struggled to get any accommodations because of lack of resources and recognition. I was told, however, that because of my stressful experience, they would start up a program for exchange students with mental illness. I don’t know if they did, but I hope nobody else has to go through all the undo stress and lack organization that I had to deal with.

  2. I’m interested in being an English teacher in Korea but I’m not sure if I’d get the job because I’m on medication for Anxiety and have been for a while. I’ve also been through a lot of therapists too and I’m not sure if that’s going to be an issue or not. I would just like to know if it’s worth it for me to go back to college or would I be wasting my time.

  3. I was going to write an essay on this topic, do you know of any other sources I can look up? (Also is it okay if I use you guys a s a source as well?)

  4. Hi Simon and Martina!

    I hope South Korea does move forward in being more accepting and willing to talk about metal health issues. I mean as a teacher myself, I see the enormous help that it is to students when accommodating for their special needs. I can’t imagine simply labeling a student a “troublemaker” when what they actually need is focused attention. I bet many just fall through the cracks. Or like you said, that’s why suicide has a high rate over there – many students commit suicide. For the sake of future students I hope that the way of approaching students with special needs changes and they actually get the specialized help they need while at school.

    As far as adults and mental health issues, I hope that also stops being a stigma and can be more easily talked about as a nation. Here in the USA, especially due to several tragedies, there has been an open discussion about mental health: services and signs to look for. There has also been a big push in advertising mental health centers and mental health services to the public. Here in L.A., there isn’t a bus you get on and don’t see a poster about Mental Health with Ron Artest (aka Metta World Peace) on it. He has been a big advocate for mental health awareness. And personally, towards the end of last year/early this year my family and I were dealing with my younger brother’s mental health issues. It was bad. He stayed at the hospital’s psych ER for three days under observation and then was transferred to mental health facility for three weeks. There he was able to get the help he needed. And now he is doing WAAAY better than how he was during his stay at that facility. He takes medicine that helps him, talks to a counselor every month, and he’s back to being the way he was before that whole ordeal. So I can’t even imagine what would have happened to my brother without those services. I’m getting teary eyed just thinking about it. If those services weren’t offered because it was so taboo or if we had the mindset that actually using those services was a big no no, then my brother’s story would be a whole lot different today.

    So hopefully, the stigma of mental health issues can one day go away completely in every nation and not just South Korea. Oh and I’m not saying that we’re completely way ahead of every other nation in acceptance in the USA either. I mentioned that lately mental health awareness has been prominent in the country or at least where I live due to tragedies nationwide but I can tell that it’s still a sensitive issue that’s not discussed unless absolutely necessary. So yeah hopefully that changes.

  5. For the next TL;DR: Can you turn right on a red light? Are the street signs like in Canada? If not, how is it different?

  6. Thanks for discussing this topic. I’ve always wondered how people with mental illnesses are treated and how mental illness are looked at in general. Since I’m getting tested for ADD, Anxiety, and Depression, this topic is very important to me. And you would think that with South Korea having the SECOND HIGHEST SUICIDE RATE IN THE WORLD that they would be more open to people with mental disabilities. It really makes me feel very bad for all of the people in SK that are dealing with things such as Depression, OCD, Autism, and ADD and they’re not really able to get help. I don’t even want to think about idols who already have enough stress in their lives. Take Joonie from MBLAQ. He has Bipolar disorder. And all of the people in SM who are in the MILK club, a support group for people with depression. G-Dragon, Daesung, and Taeyang all suffered from depression at some point in their idol career, and Daesung even developed severe social anxiety to the point to where he couldn’t look ANYONE in the eye during Big Bang’s La La La days. And as everyone knows, he became severely depressed and even became suicidal when he was dealing with that car accident back in 2011. But I can see that steps are being taken to help these people. Not big steps and not a lot of steps, but steps regardless. Like I said before about SM, they don’t really seem to have a problem with the MILK club, and I haven’t seen members like Onew, Yoona, Taeyeon, and Leetuk looked down upon for being in the MILK club. I know G-Dragon and possibly Taeyang received counseling (I presume from a psychologist) for their depression. YG Papa even sent G-Dragon on a vacation so that G-Dragon could have a break. Changmin received actual therapy because of severe anxiety brought by saesangs. Poor baby even broke down as he was surrounded by them as they kept hounding and harassing him. He talked about it on some show and I didn’t see anyone giving him BS for talking about it. While these changes are the best I’ve seen, I’m not naïve enough to think that the mental health stigma in SK is completely solved. I and everyone else that knows about and is interested in the Korean culture knows that SK has a LONG way to go when it comes to this subject.

  7. In regards to this video, I’ve just came back from my first visit to South Korea and I was alarmed to find out the people who stutter/stammer are seen as stupid and seem to be placed in the lowest classes during school.

  8. hey i was wondering of the foreigners in korea, what type of races do u guys see the most (ahh no offense) white, black, hispanic?

  9. It’s hard enough dealing with the major stigma schizophrenia gets here in the states, I dread to think of how things would be if I lived somewhere like Korea…eek!

  10. lots of koreans have bipolar and depression.
    chosun ilbo stated that 14%of koreans(1000 responses) said they have taken drugs or at least seen a shrink.
    but still koreans think anyone who has depression is mad.

  11. Heh, I couldn’t help but think of the song “Turn it Off” from the musical Book of Mormon after watching this TL;DR.


  12. The high school that I teach in has a counsellor who does an awesome job. There’s also a unit for students with special needs. It could definitely be better, but I’m really pleased to see how my school cares for those students. I know it’s not the case all the time, but I don’t want people to think that nothing exists in schools for those kids who need special help.

  13. About mental illness, it’s definitely a stigma in East Asia. Just like what Simon and Martina said, students that have ADD, ADHD, etc. are considered “bad students”. I know that some parents from China purposely move to US because their child has mental problems. I also think the stigma came about from Confucius teachings, because Confucius said that children should take care of their parents when they are older, and have to be respected and dutiful citizens (something along those lines). But if the child has some mental problem, he or she won’t be able to be respected and dutiful, and won’t be able to take care of his or her parents. Thus, mentally ill children are shunned from society.

  14. Why are Koreans so obsessed with getting the latest thing? I read that they all seem to have neophilia. Why? Plus, I agree with Martina with the whole counselling thing, I have counselling recently and it really helped me get through my difficulties. :D I feel bad for the Korean teenagers who have to suffer it all alone, which, in my opinion, is the worst thing anyone could try and do. :(

  15. How does the whole mental health screening go in regards to foreigners getting jobs? Was this something you guys had to deal with yourselves? I’ve considered attempting to enter music journalism or perhaps even the industry at some point in Korea, and am wondering if I would be faced with this? If so I’m a little screwed to say the least, as my rap sheet of mental health issues is longer than santas xmas list….

  16. honestly im an asian girl i grew up around the asian culture but these are the shit that i hate about my life. when im going through time like these i have no in my family to talk to know one in my family notice anything about it. i have turn to many thing that i try to hide from i self harm im suicidal im depress anorexic and im insurecure about myself. i think the asian culture should not try to raise their kids on the idea of perfection. martina i notice that you mention every once in a while that youre a metal head or something like that and then now you mention that you went through depression before i guess if i put the pieces together you find music as your escape.

  17. You talked about tattoos in Korea before, but I was wondering about piercings. What kind of ear and body piercings are socially acceptable in Korea?

  18. This topic is very close to my heart, and I greatly appreciate you guys addressing it. My heart goes out to all the students unable to or discouraged from seeking help for their mental health.

  19. In the latest upload of Discussing Interesting Contemporary Korean Slang: Ep 03, Miss Leigh and Miss Soo Zee had brought up “manscaping” the personal grooming of men in North America but not Korea. The way Miss Soo Zee reacted was amusing but surprised me. Obviously South Korean men don’t do it, even though “South Korean men spent $495.5 million on skincare last year” according to global market research firm Euromonitor International. So why don’t men groom “down there”? What about the women? Is keeping the area “down there” trimmed a practice? What about waxing or for that matter the Brazilian? Is it just taboo?

  20. The lack of guidance counselors is due to homeroom teachers acting as ones. Homeroom teachers in Korea take responsibilities of each student in her/his classroom and guide them through their school life.

  21. I know mental health is sort of taboo in SK, but what about reproductive health? I am a high school teacher in the US right now and am really considering moving to SK for a year with my boyfriend… will I be able to get birth control pills easily or should I plan on packing some with me?

  22. How are single parents and their children treated in South Korea? Is there a stigma to be from a one-parent household?

  23. That’s heartbreaking to hear you had ADHD and autistic students and there was zero administrative support. I’ve had students in America who were perfectly capable and almost indistinguishable from the rest of the class with the proper medication and a teacher who was aware of their issues and supportive. I hope that can change in the future as no child deserves to be labeled as a trouble maker for something beyond their control.

  24. Hi Simon and Martina… I was wondering if you guys could tell me or make a video about what the Korean dress code is… Because in your U-Kiss interview Martina stated that her tank top was inappropriate for Korea… but in Korean Dramas, and some of your other videos there are girls walking around in booty shorts… Thanks!

  25. Education wise this doesn’t surprise me. Culturally the west is very much about the individual while East Asian countries are culturally focused on the group. So when you teach in the U.S. you could have a class where every kid is performing at the highest levels (stop laughing! It could happen!) but if little Timmy is disruptive in class and falling behind it’s your job to figure out how Timmy needs you to teach him. In East Asia it sounds like if little Timmy (or little Taemin maybe? The kid who seems to always want Doritos.) is falling behind and disrupting class, it’s your job to make sure the class as a whole isn’t adversely affected.

    Having said that, I think there is probably more awareness. Parents of kids with special needs now realize that their children CAN achieve, but just need some flexibility in their education. As that awareness grows, it will result in more pressure on the schools to do their best to help those children live up to their potential.

  26. In the Netherlands it’s even like this that when you need more help then others you can go to special schools with small classes of 15 children and less so that they could give you more attention. Also with school based on religion and a lot of other stuff and I find it a really good thing that those that need a little bid of extra help get help. Even the dumpest children learn to do things on there own and might are even able to be a part of society like all the other people.

    And you even can study and ask for the extra help from different people. Just last week I had something called introduction week. This is a week where they show students how to be comfortable with where you are and show you around the school and city. I had a lot’s of fun and noticed also a lot of foreign students at this introduction week and where actually surprised to see so many foreigners. There where also lot’s of asians whom need to pay a lot in order to study here and that is pretty admirable.

  27. there’s an awesome counseling place in Gongdeok staffed with ceritifed American and Canadian professional and experienced counselors that do family, individual and professional counseling. They helped me so much I cannot say. AHS – Adaptable Human Solutions. They are priced on a case by case basis but typical of top quality professional mental healthcare services in the US or UK – about 200,000won per hour. But they are worth every penny (won). They also provide services in Korean for Korean speakers, but they are all native or fluent in English. I can also say the mental health ward staff at Seoul Paik Inje Hospital are extremely kind. They mostly deal with anorexia patients, and people over 50 with the onset of dementia. But they have a variety of therapies and are very progressive in trying different things. Their director is a bit of an a*hole if you ask me, more into his tv appearances, but the young resident doctors and the technical staff are incredibly progressive, open-minded and caring.

  28. I think the change has already started, though slowly. I’m at an elementary school and we have 6 or 7 special needs kids who are integrated into the classrooms in a way that I would see back in Canada (I’m Canadian too). 4 of them go to each class with the equivalent of an SNA (Special Needs Assistant). The SNA encourages them to chant along and helps them do the activities in English class.
    The other kids are great with them too. I’ve met a couple of special needs kids without SNAs and the other kids help them out. They hold their hands down the stairs and make sure that they get back to their homeroom class and don’t wander off. I even saw one girl helping a special needs girl open a candy. It was so nice!

  29. It makes me sad to hear that. Avoidance, and ignorance of a problem doesn’t make it go away.Perhaps with more information being put out there about mental health issues there will be changes in S.Korea. Recently they put out a drama called Good Doctor that is about an Autistic man who utilizes his special talents to become a well acknowledged pediatrician. Who knows what will be different in 1-5 years time hopefully.

  30. Lol ….when I took civics and careers in high school, they told us if anyone ever asked for a photo with your resumé to run, not because of racism or being judged on your appearance, but that it was probably some thing shady!!

  31. QUESTION…..hi!^^
    what are the ways of citizenship in S.Korea?How much money does it need?can some one become citizen just with university degree or something other than marriage with Koreans?

  32. A couple comments as someone living in Korea “with a close friend” who is maintaining the treatment of her mental illness:
    1.She asked a couple pharmacies if they carried her meds (she thought it would be faster than seeing a doctor and asking them) and they didnt carry any of them. She has to get her meds shipped from Canada in 3 month batches (custom regs). It gets super expensive to have them shipped priority so they dont get lost in the mail.
    2. She had to ‘fib’ on her health forms to get a teaching position because the question about mental illness and whether she had ever had a problem with it cost her 3 teaching positions. Seriously: She was offered THREE jobs that were retracted when they saw her health form that was clear except for that.
    3. A great measure for which people are discriminated against – what do teenagers call each other as (semi) insults: ‘crazy’. Its something i hear from my middle school kids all the time when they speak with me in English. These are kids that don’t know that word to sometimes be used as a synonym for ‘wacky’ or ‘strange’ but rather only ‘someone with a mental illness’.

  33. I think from my and my friends’ experience, things are getting a bit better in the teaching world here. All of my teachers are aware of students with problems beyond simple classroom dislike. However, there are no behavior plans, or seperate classes or any kind of help for the teachers, and one student freaking out and beating the crap out of their neighbor student or throwing heavy objects across the room at people can really put a strain on your ability to teach a class :/

  34. As a Korean-American with clinical depression and siblings with autism, mental health has always been something that’s been swept under the rug for us in Korean communities.

    • “mental health is a topic that’s often been swept under the rug for me in Korean communities. In MY EXPERIENCE, Korean adults seem to think that mental health is something that’s not a medical issue but rather an issue with character.”

      As an Asian-American I can’t point that out enough. I’m mixed and it’s sometimes discouraging to see that one half of the family is really matter of fact with my mental disorder and the other side of the family I know won’t be able to accept or understand it, in fact I have to keep it a secret from everyone but one of my Aunts whose a teacher here in the US.

  35. If there’s such a stigma around seeing psychologists, is psychology not a common or sought out field in South Korea?

  36. Martina, I absolutely love your makeup in this video. Can you do a tutorial on it??

  37. I hope more attention to mental illnesses, disorders, etc, will be implemented in SK and other countries. I watched the Japanese drama and movie “One Litre of Tears” when I was younger which really opened my eyes to these problems. Peeps should watch it if you haven’t!!

    • Except, while I also love that drama, ‘One Litre of Tears’ is a physical illness, not a mental one. It affects the physical areas of her brain, not the psychological. But you’re right that it was awful that she had to deal with the attitudes about her disability. :(

  38. I’m always surprised to hear the counseling services aren’t embraced as widely as they are in North America. I live in Kentucky, a state that’s known for not being super modern in it’s education systems, but throughout my entire school life I’ve always had super easy access to counselors. In high school each grade had it’s own counselor and if there was a tragedy at the school, like the death of a student, a licensed psychologist was brought in for a few weeks to just be there if anyone needed someone to talk to. Even in the case of special education there were several special education teachers and classrooms and students could volunteer to help out in the special ed rooms as well.

    In college there is even more support. There is an entire building dedicated to being a “safe zone” for talking things out. If you go there you can talk to other students or psychologists and it can be alone or in groups. They have all sorts of campaigns where they put fliers all over campus and hand out pamphlets to let people know where they can go if they need help. There are always speakers being brought in to talk about different struggles with mental illnesses and traumatic situations and encourage people to talk things out with someone.

  39. I’m a new teacher here in Korea and I have come in contact with a few students with ADHD and autism (i’ve been teaching for two weeks). I’m not a licensed teacher back in the US, but I do have a counseling background which is why it was easy for me to identify their behavioral problems. I mentioned it to the head instructor (not director) and she was like, “ahh. yeah. .yeah. I can see that.” So I think maybe they are starting to KNOW about it, but they still don’t really… do any thing about it. :

  40. in korea mental illness is considered a shame. If any of your family members have any kind of illness its a shame to the entire family so a lot of people will keep it on the down low.
    I heard that there are special schools( im not sure tho ) but as i mentioned mental illness is a shame so if you mentioned my kid goes to and you name the school. People would probably recognize quickly that is a special school and will soon look down onto that kid and parents. So I think the main reason why these kids are still in these regular schools is because of that reason. In regular school they can just be labeled as the troublesome kid rather than the disability kid if they go to the special school.

    I remember seeing a video on how korean parents who have just given birth to babies with disabilities or babies likely to get disabilities getting dropped at a home of a pastor. There were so many babies being dropped in front of his home that he made a box where parents could drop the babies in.

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