Why Is Depression So Prevalent in South Korea? (7+ Astonishing Reasons)

In this article, we will be discussing, “ Depression in South Korea”, a brief introduction and clinical features of depression, causes of depression in South Korea, treatment of depression and some of the frequently asked questions around the topic.

Depression is prevalent in South Korea because:

  • Stigma associated with mental illnesses and seeking professional help
  • Low level of healthy behaviour
  • Apprehension about future 
  • Lack of social support
  • Inability to cope up with the growth and development 
  • Strict protocols and policies
  • Rise in the use of social media
  • Chronic stress among people
  • High beauty standard among women and stress of not reaching it
  • Drug addiction and alcohol use


Depression is a mood disorder that is often called Unipolar Depression or Major Depressive Disorder. It is one of the most common and prevalent mental disorders.

According to the American Psychiatric Association (2013), the two key symptoms of Depression are Depressed mood and the loss of pleasure and interest, Anhedonia during the same 2-week period. 

Apart from these two symptoms, Depressive patients also undergo other symptoms such as insomnia and hypersomnia, psychomotor agitation, loss of energy, worthlessness, diminished ability to think and concentrate, and recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal ideation. 

Depression in South Korea

The rate of depression in South Korea is high compared to other countries. Moreover, in the last few years, the rate has increased along with the increasing number of people who deliberately hurt themselves. Adding onto that, cases of suicide has also spiked up lately.

As per the report of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development nations, South Korea is the nation with the highest rate of suicide.

Since there are a substantial number of Korean diagnosed with depression and are battling with it, the government has started taking care of it and developed their care and treatment towards it.

Amongst the population in Korea, the rate of depression is found to be higher in the elderly population and women.

Causes of Depression in South Korea

There are different risk factors associated with the increasing number of depression in South Korean. While some of those are personal factors, others happened to be negligence from the country itself. 

Elder population and women are more likely to be depressed and their rate is found to be significantly higher than the rest of the population. The depressive rate of the adolescent is also found to be high.

Some of the risk factors for the diagnosis of Depression are:

It was found that the lack of healthy behaviour is significantly related to the vulnerability of depression. The healthy behaviours of both men and women are less and very rare. Men who don’t walk and engage in physical exercise daily are likely to be diagnosed with depression and have a higher risk of it. While for women, it is their smoking behaviour that makes them more vulnerable to depression.

Living without a spouse

It was found through a research study done on Korean that individuals who are living alone and are left alone without a spouse and family have higher chances of chronic stress and developing depressive symptoms. 

Low educational status and household income

Many who earn low educational status and aren’t employed have higher chances of suffering from depression. It was found that they are not able to sustain their family which results in substantial stress and make them vulnerable to depression.

Stigma and taboo associated with mental illnesses and seeking help

In most of the Asian countries and among Asian, there are prevailing stigmas and taboo associated with mental illnesses as well as seeking help and treatment. And it is because of which people are reluctant to seek help from professionals resulting in a high rate of depression among the population. 

Lack of social support system for the elderly

Owing to the rapid economic development and growth, socio-cultural transition and trends, the elderly population in Korea find it challenging as well as hard for them to cope up with the development. They had difficulty in adjusting with the novelties around. Moreover, with the absence of any source of social support, it adds to the burden and thus, faces serious chronic stress which lately escalates to depression.

Increase in suicidal ideation

Suicide in South Korea is very prevalent owing to the high incidence rate as well as the prevalence of depression in the country. There is a high risk of suicide especially in the older population, adolescent and female.

Insecurity about their future

The high rate of depression, suicide and self-harming behaviour in the adolescence are because of the insecurity and the apprehension they faced about the future. Many youths are stressed out and often worried about their life ahead resulting in severe stress and depression.

Strict policies and protocol

In recent time, owing to the pandemic and consequent lockdown, the rate of suicide and depression in South Korea was significantly high and alarming. Many women deal with suicidal ideation solely because they couldn’t catch up with others, no social life and the strict protocols of physical distancing and curfew took a toll on their psychological health.

Daily Behavioural routine 

Another reason behind an alarming number of people with depression is because of the disrupted behavioural routine. Especially in adolescents and youth, there are prevalent cases of substance use, food restrictions and weight control that elevates stress level and furthermore, hampers their daily life.

A study has shown that there is an associated relationship between the increased risk of depression and substance use among youth.

These are the major contributing factors for depression in Korean population especially in adolescents, elderly and women. 

Coping with Depression

Since the major reasons behind depression in the South Korean Population are more personal, one can cope with the depressive symptoms by simply following some techniques. 

Providing health care services and therapy

One major reason behind the alarming rate of depression was lack of access to health care services. And it was often found through research findings that the treatment for the depressive episode is low. Thus to effectively cope with the depressive symptoms and prevailing cases, offering and providing health care facilities and pharmacotherapy can help ease the increasing case.

Imbibing and incorporating healthy behaviour in lifestyle

It is apparent from research findings that the rate of depression in South Korea is high because many people often have unhealthy behaviour resulting in chronic stress and depression. Thus, incorporating some healthy behaviours like going for a walk, eating healthy, getting quality sleep etc helps in alleviating the depressive symptoms.

Setting up the helpline desk and facilities

With the rising need of professional help in people dealing with mental health-related issues and concerns, the government should take their responsibility by offering online help for the victim and supporting their struggles with all sorts of facilities and provisions. 

Normalizing beauty standards and preferences

A major source of stress, depression and all kinds of mental health-related concerns in women are caused by overly focused and emphasis on beauty standards. Often when girls fail to live up to the set criteria, they feel low and down and that might develop into depression gradually.

These are some of the treatment or coping mechanisms that can be taken individually or measures by the government to get rid of the alarming rate of people suffering from mental health-related illnesses. 

FAQs: Depression in South Korea

Is South Korea depressing?

Yes, over two million people of Korea suffer from depression and are battling with it.

Where is the highest rate of depression?

Oregon, Maine and West Virginia are reported to have the highest rate of depression

What problems does South Korea have?

They face the problem of poor governance, lack of leadership, corruption and lack of consensus among major issues.

Is South Korea a poor country?

Yes, it was once a poor country however in recent years, it has developed rapidly.


In this article, we have discussed, “ Depression in South Korea”, a brief introduction and clinical features of depression, causes of depression in South Korea, treatment of depression and some of the frequently asked questions around the topic.




Jang, B. N., & Lee, H. J. (2020). Association between health behaviours and depression: findings from a national cross-sectional study in South Korea. BMC Psychiatry, 20(238).

Kim, G. E., & Jo, M. W. (2020). Increased prevalence of depression in South Korea from 2002 to 2013. Scientific Reports, 10(16979).

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