Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"At the mercy of her mind"

The most emailed story in the Los Angeles Times today is the story of a six-year-old girl who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. The accompanying video is especially touching.

Though this is a particularly severe case, it underscores the problems experienced by loved ones of those suffering from mental illness, the virtual full-time job caring for that person and the hope against hope that that child, parent, sibling, grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin, or friend will find some happiness. 

The parents of January Schofield clearly have a sympathetic audience — to some degree at least — but imagine the same scenario in a culture such as Korea or most of East Asia where mental illness is a shameful thing, almost as if the family has done something wrong to cause it, in this life or another (and indeed, a similar cultural norm still lingers in North America). That is just one more huge hurdle toward solving it. 

I have worked with a psychiatrist in South Korea at a prominent medical facility, which gave me the chance to discuss mental health issues in the Korean context. Delivery of mental health care in Korea today, she said, is a decent sytem. The problem, she emphasized, is that too few of the people who need it are actually using it. 

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