How much do you know about mental health?
Expo raises awareness, offers pop quiz and free counseling
By Noh Hyun-gi
ILSAN, Gyeonggi Province — Is depression a personality problem? Do people talk about their plans to commit suicide? Are blackouts from drinking related to a brain tumor?
These are samples of true-or-false questions that perplexed most visitors at the two-day Mental Health Expo at KINTEX, which ended Sunday.
At the second annual event co-hosted by the Korean Neuropsychiatric Association (KNPA), the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Korean Association of Suicide Prevention, over 100 booths occupied by a variety of related organizations tested people’s knowledge about depression, bipolar disorder, dementia, ADHD, addictions and more.
The free event also offered 25-minute counseling with psychiatrists from leading hospitals. The purpose of the gathering was to raise public awareness about the importance of mental health.
“So many people who came to our booth thought introvert characteristics lead to depression” said Lee Whang-bin, a physician representing Korean Society of Depression and Bipolar Disorder who administered the OX quizzes.
Changes in neurotransmitters or brain chemicals can result in depression characterized by low moods, hopelessness, and worthlessness; eight out of 10 people express suicidal thoughts before they take their lives; excessive alcohol consumption can shut down the hippocampus, part of the brain responsible for memory, and may trigger early dementia.
Fortunately, the engaged visitors at the expo proved that people are eager to learn. Seo Dong-woo took a quick questionnaire to identify symptoms of mood disorder and talked with an expert about stress management.
“I read about this in a newspaper. I find the self-diagnosing activities very helpful,” Seo said holding up a dozen pamphlets from the stands he had visited. “It is refreshing to talk about these issues outside a hospital.”
Like Seo, many enjoyed the change of scene according to Shin Yoon-mee, a psychiatrist from Ajou University Hospital who was offering free consultation.
“People asked me whether they were too anxious or unhappy. Though I referred some of them to doctors, not all of them had serious problems. They simply hadn’t had a chance to talk about these problems,” Shin said before inviting her 10th patient.
“People were at ease to meet a doctor in a non-intimidating environment,” she added.
The circumstance maybe worse outside the capital as top-tier facilities are clustered in Seoul. Kim Jin-soo trekked from Cheonju, North Chungcheong Providence. “I could not pass up the chance to meet with high-quality doctors,” Kim said. On Saturday, over 70 people from across the country were waitlisted after all 360 slots were taken.
The wall of social stigma is still too high in Korea to allow for casual discussion let alone hospital visits. Though 27.6 percent of Korean adults suffer from psychiatric problems at least once in their life time, only 7 percent seek help, according to the 2011 epidemiological survey by Seoul National University Hospital.
“Suicides and addictions are serious maladies affecting our society yet we know so little about them,” said Lee Dong-woo, the publicity director of KNPA.
“We incorporated surveys and mini-tests to get people to think about these issues and how much they can affect our daily lives.”
This year’s event was organized with five “villages” or clusters tailored to psychiatric problems roughly corresponding to a life cycle. Dream-I Village highlighted problems in children such as ADHD; Happy Village targeted mood and sleep disorders for adults; Healing Village addressed alcohol, internet, smoking and gambling addictions; Golden Village for the elderly showcased various activities to prevent or ameliorate dementia.
hope Village, a section of the expo focused on suicide prevention, showed that education on mental problems will have a ripple effect.
“Visitors were surprised to learn that people talk about suicidal thoughts online and were eager to learn about ways to help,” said a social worker from the Korean Associations of Suicide Prevention.
She was urging people to add hypothetical comments on the wall for post that read; “kids call me a looser at school because I can’t play a computer game well. I want to die.”
“This is a real posting we found last week. The most effective reaction is to call the police who will collaborate with a cyber force to contact the writer and offer help,” she said.
One should immediately report any call for group suicides. Commonly, people use web portals and Kakao Talk (popular mobile messenger program) to coordinate suicide pacts.