S. Koreans aged 20 to 34 to get mental health check-ups every 2 years

Nearly 40,000 South Koreans took their own lives over the past three years, with the suicide rate increasing among younger people. - AFP

SEOUL: South Korea on Dec 5 rolled out a comprehensive plan to offer mental health check-ups every two years for young Koreans aged 20 to 34 and other counselling services tailored to all age groups, in the first detailed state policy aimed at tackling the country’s consistently high suicide rates.

Korea has recorded the highest suicide rate among member nations of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development for almost 20 years, with 25.2 deaths per 100,000 people in 2022, more than double the OECD average of 10.6 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the organisation’s data released in September.

Nearly 40,000 South Koreans took their own lives over the past three years, with the suicide rate increasing among younger people, showed data from the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency submitted to Representative Baek Jong-hean of the ruling People Power Party in October.

To tackle the country’s consistently waning mental health, the government will implement mental health check-ups once every two years, starting with those aged between 20 and 34 and later expanding to all age groups to detect warning signs early on.

An updated target disease list will include depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Currently, the state provides mental health check-ups for Koreans aged between 20 and 70 every 10 years.

The government also plans to beef up follow-up management by joining forces with mental health welfare centres and hospitals’ psychiatric departments after the examination.

The new state drive was announced by President Yoon Suk-yeol at a meeting on mental health policy on Dec 5. Yoon said he would form a new presidential committee to map out mental health policies, as well as look after investments and infrastructure for mental care.

He stressed the significance of having good mental health for the country’s future growth, reflecting on the ailing birth rate. Yoon also vowed to revamp the state support system to prevent mental problems and help individuals’ recovery.

“Now is the time for the country to take active measures to ensure the mental (health) of its people. Mental health issues are not something individuals can take care of (by themselves),” Yoon said. “We must make it an important national agenda and seek solutions.”

The plan also includes providing psychological counselling services to 80,000 people in 2024 and expanding the number to some one million people by 2027 to help individuals experiencing early signs of mental challenges make a quick recovery.

The government will also designate the phone number 109 as a new mental health crisis hotline, and provide online text message therapy for youth and young adults who may prefer non-verbal methods of communication.

“By investing boldly in public mental health, we will create a society where all citizens can use mental health services anytime, anywhere, and where mentally ill people can receive proper treatment and live together,” Minister of Health and Welfare Cho Kyu-hong said in an online briefing to reporters.

For a more effective prevention and recovery approach, the Health Ministry and the Korean National Police Agency will establish a joint emergency response centre operating 24/7 with police officers and healthcare professionals in 17 regions to increase efficiency in emergency responses for those with severe mental health problems.

In addition, the ministry plans to review whether to introduce a “judicial hospitalisation system”, where a mentally ill person could be subject to hospitalisation by court order.

It also plans to consider implementing Psychiatric Advance Directives, a legal tool that allows a person with mental illness to state their preferences for treatment in advance of a crisis.

The ministry seeks to expand emergency regional medical centers for psychiatric patients with either trauma or mental illness nationwide by 2025, as well as to secure more psychiatric emergency beds and increase information sharing for mental health among related authorities.

Other measures include hiring 100 phone service counsellors, nurturing some 228,000 mental health professionals by 2027 – up 34,000 from the 2019 figure of 194,000 – and improving their working conditions. Korea also aims to add more rehabilitation centres to help those struggling with mental health issues return to society.

Starting in July 2024, the Health Ministry will initiate training on suicide prevention for 16 million people. The anti-suicide toolkit will include how to ask for help when struggling with suicidal thoughts and how to notice the warning signs.

Moreover, the ministry will launch a nationwide campaign to curb stigma against people with mental illness by teaming up with organisations at universities and mental health advocacy groups. It plans to come up with media reporting guidelines on mental health to minimiSe discrimination and bias.

The ministry declined to comment on a financial estimate, explaining it is difficult to outline each scheme’s budget. - The Korea Herald/ANN

Those contemplating suicide can reach out to the Mental Health Psychosocial Support Service (03-2935 9935/ 014-322 3392); Talian Kasih (15999/ 019-261 5999 on WhatsApp); Jakim’s family, social and community care centre (011-1959 8214 on WhatsApp); or Befrienders Kuala Lumpur (03-7627 2929/ email sam@befrienders.org.my/ befrienders centres in malaysia).

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South Korea , mental , health , check-ups


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