Updated: Nov 6
The Itaewon Halloween tragedy has caused much anguish and grief amongst South Koreans. With many international students frequenting this part of Seoul, it was difficult for me to process how such a tragedy could unfold and lead to many bright, young lives being lost. Though the death of loved ones is of the utmost concern to the nation, many government officials are worried about the impending mental health crises that may arise.
South Korean society is characterized by citizens having high levels of motivation, likely due to the financial hardships faced by the country immediately after the Korean War. This mentality contributed to Korea's unprecedented economic growth and rises to global recognition after being one of the poorest nations. Korean culture centers around Confucianism, where the family's reputation is held in higher regard than an individual's. As a result, society often revolves around citizens presenting a facade of success, while in the backdrop exists unhealthy pressure from family and peers. These cultural phenomena manifest in times of hardship and tragedy, as many Koreans feel uncomfortable voicing their challenges and often forgo mental health care. In fact, in 2014, South Korea experienced the Sewol Ferry Disaster, which resulted in approximately 300 lives lost, most of whom were high school students. Despite this, around 79% of bereaved families did not receive mental health counseling (Lee, 2021).
These incidents involving many young adults and teenagers make it difficult for parents and the rest of society to accept the loss of life. The way these people died was also disheartening, as outsiders can only imagine how harrowing their final moments must have been. The widespread media coverage makes it even more difficult for viewers to forget about the incident. Due to this, government officials are wary that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may soar if action is not taken. The government is encouraging its citizens to stop watching and posting videos of the tragedy on the internet. Eyewitnesses and victims' families are still recovering from the incident, so it may be detrimental if they are reminded of it. Moreover, survivor's guilt is also a common outcome of these incidents, with counterfactual thoughts like what could I have done differently pervading the minds of those affected. Officials have warned that even those not associated may succumb to PTSD if they continue watching the videos surfacing on the web, so they encourage all parties to make a collective effort to limit their media exposure. Symptoms of those affected may include loss of appetite, changes in sleep patterns, and, more significantly, preoccupation and constant rumination about the event. This can spiral into higher rates of depression and even emotional numbness without adequate treatment (Arirang News Center, 2022).
“Expert's Insights on How the Itaewon Incident Could Affect People's Mental Health.” YouTube, YouTube, 1 Nov. 2022, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=smJp0otXt7E. Accessed 4 Nov. 2022.
Pi :: Psychiatry Investigation, https://www.psychiatryinvestigation.org/m/journal/view.php?number=838.