The number of people suffering from depression last year exceeded 1 million.
More worrying, however, is the rising prevalence of depression among people in their 20s and 30s, many of whom are drowning in oceans of debt.
According to data provided by the National Health Insurance Service, 1,000,744 people received treatment for depression last year, which is 44.79 percent more than in 2017.
The number of young people receiving treatment increased at an even faster rate.
Last year, 350,000 people between the ages of 20 and 39 received treatment for depression, representing 35 percent of all patients.
The figure has more than doubled since 2017 when just 150,000 people aged between 20 and 39 received treatment.
Kwon Joon-soo, a professor of psychiatry at Seoul National University College of Medicine, says the true number may be much higher because many young people are unaware that they suffer from depression.
There may be many more people in their 20s and 30s who have been undiagnosed with depression and have neglected their serious condition or are on the verge of becoming depressed, he said.
Kwon estimates that the number of young people with undiagnosed depression is between 1.3 and 1.5 million.
Considering that there are 13.4 million people in the country in their 20s and 30s, this would mean that one in 10 people in that age group suffer from depression or are at high risk.
A 37-year-old man, who only wanted to be identified as Lee, said he didn’t realize he was already suffering from depression.
Although I was working, I couldn’t finish the work given and I had no motivation to start something new, Lee said. I couldn’t sleep, and even if I did, I kept waking up in the middle.
Lee said at first he thought those symptoms were caused by fatigue.
But because the symptoms continued for a month, I went for a check-up where I was diagnosed with depression, Lee said.
He has been undergoing treatment for the past seven months. Despite this, he says he has seen little improvement.
The sources of my problems, the huge pile of debt in addition to the interest and the cost of the children’s education, did not go away, so nothing got better, Lee said. The future is bleak as I can only wonder if I will have to pay off the debt for the rest of my life.
Hard times and mountains of debt
SNU psychiatrist Kwon says that increasing depression among young people can have a serious impact on society.
Young people in their 20s and 30s should lead the future, Kwon said. If these young people are drawn into depression, the entire society will inevitably be depressed.
Society will be much more rigid, isolated and stagnant, Kwon said.
Heavy financial burdens coupled with difficult economic conditions and psychological isolation, which lead to alienation, are the main forces driving the alarming rise in depression.
The toxic perception that people without solid jobs or homes of their own are failures doesn’t help.
This perception led many young people to take out huge loans to buy homes when interest rates were low.
Others plunged into the stock market with huge loans when indexes were breaking records a few years ago.
As real estate prices rose, more and more young people, fearing they might miss the real estate gravy train, took out even bigger loans. In doing so, they got in over their heads.
About 476 trillion won ($352 billion) in new loans were taken out last year. Nearly a third of the 133 trillion won was taken by people in their 20s and 30s.
Most of the loans for young people went to buy homes.
Of the loans made to young people, 77.4 trillion won went to mortgages and 8.5 trillion won were unsecured loans.
The youth also borrowed nearly 50 trillion won from brokers for margin trading.
Late payments are also growing at an alarming rate.
Due loans to young people as of July this year amount to 494 billion won. Last year, outstanding loans amounted to 352.4 billion won.
Kim Jung-myeong, a 35-year-old who works for a small and medium-sized company, said he had no choice but to take out as many loans as he could.
A person is already a failure when they fail to get a suitable job in a large company or public entity, Kim said. You will become a failure a second time if you cannot afford to buy a house.
Lee Sang-hoon, 34, said he took out a mortgage six months ago because he believed he would not get another chance to buy his own apartment.
“I stretched myself to get a loan because it was now or never,” Lee said.
However, he admitted he was overwhelmed by the 1 million won monthly interest payments, especially as interest rates have risen as Korea’s central bank has tightened the money supply to fight inflation.
Lee feels a clear divide between the rich who inherit their parents’ wealth and everyone else.
Some people live their lives without breaking a sweat in the apartments their parents handed down to them, Lee said. But for the average person like me, we have to struggle to buy a flat. And even if we do, it’s not easy to keep them.
I am very aware that the world is unfair, Lee said. But I feel underprivileged, learning that there are social classes they cannot overcome.
A polarized society with little mobility
The psychiatrist from SNU said that economic problems are the biggest reason for the increasing depression among young people.
The letter N stands for natural numbers, while po is the abbreviation for pogiwhich means giving up.
Young people are the N-po generation, which has given up employment and home ownership, Kwon said. Due to the dire economy and uncertain future, they fall into depression.
Sometimes, such depression caused by anxiety over social class led to suicide.
According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s Suicide White Paper last year, feelings of deprivation caused by differences in social class were the most significant reason for suicide.
The paper notes that the more a young person feels relatively deprived, the more pessimistic that person becomes about their prospects, leading to social isolation and an increased risk of suicide.
Medical experts believe that most people who take their own lives suffer from depression.
A research paper published in the Health and Social Welfare Review in April reported that 42.1 percent or 460 of 1,012 respondents aged 20 to 39 said they had thought about suicide at least once.
Kim Woo-Yeon, who is in her 20s, was among those who considered suicide.
I had no job, and I was struggling economically, said Kim. I thought I would be at peace if I died.
But at one point I was afraid that such thoughts came so naturally to me, said Kim.
In a Department of Health study of more than 26,500 people who were rushed to 80 hospital rooms after suicide attempts last year, 28 percent, or 7,400, were people aged 20, while 13.6 percent, or 3,600, were aged 30. .
The economy isn’t the only factor driving up rates of depression among young people.
The impact of Covid-19, social media
The isolation imposed on people during the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic played a significant role.
During Covid-19, people had to work from home and take classes online, said Lim Myung-ho, a professor of psychology and psychotherapy at Dankuk University. Our environment has changed, where the barrier between work, school and leisure has become blurred.
The positive emotional exchange from meeting people in person and spending time outdoors was diminished, Lim added. Because we were isolated in a very confined space, the depression seems to have worsened.
The psychologist said that while humanity has moved on from the Covid-19 lockdown, the depression caused by the pandemic is manifesting itself as a psychological aftereffect.
Social media is also blamed for exacerbating feelings of deprivation among young people who are already exposed to differences in social class and isolation from Covid-19.
In the past, people couldn’t see how other people lived each moment, said Kwak Keum-jo, a professor of psychology at SNU. Today, we can constantly follow the lavish lifestyle of famous and rich people.
People in their 20s and 30s endlessly compare themselves to other people who live better than they do on social media, Kwak said.
Lee Eun-Jin, 32, said she recently deleted all social media apps from her smartphone.
When I checked how many hours I spent on the apps, I found out that I was on Instagram for 5 hours a day, Lee said. I felt pathetic for being jealous of friends who post pictures and videos of traveling abroad or friends who live in nice apartments.
I decided to leave all social media, Lee said.
SNU psychiatrist Kwon, however, said that better accessibility to psychiatrists and psychiatric treatment once stigmatized in the past has also increased the number of young people being diagnosed with depression.
In the past, people were hesitant to see a psychiatrist for fear of others finding out about it, Kwon said. Today, it seems that there are more younger people who seek help from hospitals if they feel depressed.
A positive change is that more young people are recognizing depression and willing to seek appropriate treatment, Kwon said.
According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Korea ranks 31st out of 41 member countries in the index of social support for young people between the ages of 15 and 29.
The index shows the extent to which people feel they can rely on friends and relatives when facing difficulties. The OECD collected the data in 2022.
Some experts suggest that individually, people should improve their resilience to recover and, as a society, create a safety net that includes affordable housing policies and pension reforms that could ease worries about economic uncertainties.
SNU psychology professor Kwak said social media companies should create guidelines to prevent their platforms from causing users to feel deprived.
They should have guidelines against posts that are excessive or false, Kwak said.
BY WON DONG-WOOK, LEE SO-JUNG [email@example.com]
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