Recently, the police concluded Choi Jin-sil, the nation’s iconic actress, had impulsively committed suicide because of depression and stress. The death of this long-adored actress made us to pay great attention to the issue of depression. According to research by Seoul National University Bundang Hospital, 12 percent of Korean university students have symptoms of depression. This statistics makes us wonder: Are we living in a time of depression?
“Relatively many university students visit the counseling center because of depression. This contradicts our stereotype that depression is an illness that housewives in their 40s suffer,” said a staff member at the Seodaemun-gu Mental Health Center, which offers counseling to people suffering from mental illness.
According to a survey conducted by the Campus Herald in February, concerns over human relationships, future career paths, employment and military service are the main causes that make university students gloomy. “Since it is hard to keep up relationships with people I meet in the university, I sometimes feel stressed and depressed,” said one Political Science & Diplomacy major.
“If a person goes through repetitive failures, the person gets stressed and the stress leads the person to depression. However, depression not only arises from exogenous reasons such as excessive stress, but also from genetic factors. If a person genetically has a problem with serotonin, a chemical produced naturally in your brain that affects the way you feel, she or he is more likely to feel depressed,” said Lee Min-soo, the chief of the Depression Center in Korea University’s Anam Hospital, in an interview with the Chosun Ilbo.
Simply feeling gloomy does not mean a person has automatically depression. “If a person feels gloomy for more than two weeks and these feelings interfere with everyday life, we call it clinical depression. Also, if a person gets highly stressed over a short amount of time, he or she suffer from symptoms of depression,” said Lee Ho-boon, a psychiatrist at Yonsei Noori Clinic.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association, if a person has at least five among the nine symptoms below, he or she can be diagnosed with depression.
1. Feeling blue, empty, depressed and despondent during most of the day
2. Lack of interest in everyday activities
3. Sudden, uncontrolled decrease or increase in weight
4. Chronic insomnia or excessive sleep
5. Feeling of anxiousness that happens almost every day
6. Chronic fatigue syndrome
7. Decrease in the ability to concentrate and think
8. Decrease in self-respect
9. Repetitive thoughts about death.
For those students who are suffering from depression, student counseling centers with expert staff are located in most universities. At the Ewha Student Counseling Center (ESCC), students can get counseling for an hour if they register through the Ewha Portal Information System. “Since there are many students who need counseling, counselors in the center are always busy. So, for students to be able to get a consultation, they should make a reservation one week before the consultation day,” said an intern at the center.
Government mental health centers in every district also offer counseling services. However, some students fear getting professional help from these centers. “Korean people tend to solve their personal problems by talking to their family or friends rather than getting professional help. Korean university students do not go to those places because they are afraid of being perceived as lunatics,” said Professor Choi In-yi (Sociology).
An Hyun-mi, a researcher at the ESCC, suggests several tips for students suffering from depression or similar symptoms to get over the illness. “Depending often depends on one’s health, so health management is an important issue,” said An. “Also, if you feel depressed for a relatively long time, it would be helpful for you to seek help from others such as friends or family members, by talking about your problem as a first step. In addition, the ESCC is offering individual counseling and group counseling to all Ewha students. It can be very helpful because we focus on improving communication and interpersonal skills, and lacking there is one of the main reasons for depression.”