“Koreans are Increasingly Mentally Ill”

Great. Yet another Korean-American gunman.

The past several years have been unprecedented for Asian-Americans as the silent “model-minority” has suddenly been thrust in the spotlight for “going postal” and murdering innocents. Ash and I will never forget the VA Tech massacre – her alma mater, where the shootings by Seung-hi Cho took place on grounds so familiar… and then there was the Discovery Channel hostage crisis with James Lee… and now this shooting on a Christian school campus by a certain “One Goh.” That’s the third in 5 years.

It’s tempting to make generalizations here, and I’ve heard a good number of them: “Koreans are more depressed than others,” “suicide is higher than ever in Korea,” “sexual addictions are highest amongst Koreans,” “Koreans are the most closeted people,” “Koreans are increasingly mentally ill.” I don’t know about all of these, but that last one summarizes it for me.

“Koreans are increasingly mentally ill” – and while we cannot make these egregious instances of insanity the general rule for all, I do think it bears some indication of the Korean-American state of mind. The years of shame, inward cultural tensions, saving face, respectability (esp in the Korean-American religious community), and immigrant life combine to create a unique emotional / psychological strain I believe. I am aware of more and more people in the K-Am community who are overcome by mental illness, but the stigma on seeking psychological help keeps them cloistered at home, or struggling to deal with problems in-house. I sympathize for my people.

My questions for this week, and how appropriate as I celebrate Holy Week / Good Friday with my largely 2nd-gen Korean-Am community:

How can we foster greater emotional health in the Korean-American community?

How can we get the 1st-immigrant generation involved? (I’m a big believer in family / systems therapy)

Is anyone doing anything like this?

Published by Wayne Park

Asian-American clergyman thinking about issues of faith, place, race and culture-making in the vast city of Houston, TX

11 thoughts on ““Koreans are Increasingly Mentally Ill”

  1. What a succinct and spot-on summary! Such a shame that OUR (yes, I must own my heritage) pride gets in the way of healing and recovery…

    1. thanx Jennie – yes pride, but also this deep seated shame; combined with the work-hard-to-survive immigrant mentality – it’s a hard standard to live by

    1. thanx Drew – absolutely.

      I’ve had some musings about how a joint KM-EM “discipleship school” could have much potential for a whole lotta good; staffed by family counselors, therapists, and spiritual directors… building “healing bridges”…

      Hope the church plant is going well – gonna hv to visit yall next time I’m up in the Big Apple

  2. I have an experience (which is not in the K-AM context) when I went back to Korea. At Onnuri Church in Seobingo, the young adult group held some kind of recovery clinic and we were put in a small group of men in their late 20s to mid 30s. I was astonished when I found out through our discussions that ALL of them had issues with their father. None of them had an intimate relationship with their father. (And I thought I was the only one!)
    A symptomatic subset of this mental illness of the Korean (and K-AM) people is of the lack of intimacy between father and son, which may have to be extended to the whole family in a family-systems therapy.

    1. that’s right along the lines of what I’ve been thinking; there are some deep, repressed things that rarely get addressed, and instead get washed over by religious behavior and activity which rarely address the root and only serve to deepen the neurosis;

      I think K-Am society can really really benefit from this family-systems approach…

      hey are you graduated yet man? Hope to see you again… we had some good times together in class

      1. Yeah.. it was too bad that you were busy and I was busy and didn’t really have time to talk. Well, I AM graduating this April, and all my work is done. Now I am ‘paralysed’ about everything being up in the air. LOL ^^
        Looks like you are doing great in your ministry.

  3. The killing of Latasha harlins has proved many korean americans (men & women) have an itchy finger .Korean christians routinely vandalize buddhist treasures in korea.May be trauma associated with korean war made them negative people.

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