First, I am not an expert in psychiatry. These are merely observations from one who has personal experience with some of these issues. Also, note that I am not reviewing the dramas listed - I'm merely pointing out the issues addressed. My opinions of the dramas as a whole is not the important point here.
Mental Health In Asian Drama
Including Mental Illness, Mood Disorders, and Mental Disabilities
When any country has social problems the first people to address it are the filmmakers. Before an issue is resolved in society and/or in politics, it is brought to the public’s attention in the form of TV dramas and movies. In American film history, we see instances of mental health being addressed in classic films. For example: The Best Years of our Lives (post traumatic stress disorder), It's a Wonderful Life (depression), The Snake Pit (psychogenic amnesia), and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (various illnesses) -- to name a few. It's fair to say that films and TV shows featuring such topics have brought some awareness to the general public.
In recent years this same awareness have been happening in Asian dramas and movies. While there are several Asian movies that touch on the subject, today I’m focusing just on dramas.
Protect the Boss: Agoraphobia
The male protagonist of this drama is Cha Ji Heon (Ji Sung). His diagnosis is Agoraphobia, but after watching the show it is apparent that there are other phobias as well: mysophobia (fear of germs) & nyctophobia (fear of the dark). After touching anyone he has to sanitize his hands and he sleeps with his lights on. It’s usually the case, that if someone with anxiety has one phobia they will experience other phobias as well. So I wasn’t surprised to see that he had other issues besides his agoraphobia. In this drama he gets help from No Eun Seol (his secretary/love interest). She simply helps him by using basic exposure therapy. She takes him out to the world and to try and make him overcome his fear.
From my observations, his agoraphobia doesn't seem too severe. People with severe cases of agoraphobia can pretty much become shut-ins, not stepping outside their home at all. While he does have anxiety attacks while in public, they haven't been crippling enough to keep him permanently at home. His quick recovery is pretty impressive. But in reality, fighting any type of anxiety disorder is a lifetime struggle. I have high hopes for Cha Ji Heon though. He found someone to stay by his side as he fights his anxiety.
ToGetHer: Intellectual Disability
The person who has the mental disability in this drama is not a main character, but rather the 2nd main male lead. Wei Jia Sen (played by George Hu) is a fully grown man with the maturity of an 8 year old. From what I can remember, the drama doesn’t indicate the name of his condition. Other than his intellectual, mental state he is perfectly healthy. He is very athletic and is the captain of his school's swim team. Most people who interact with him are very friendly. And why not? He has a very sweet and good-natured personality.
What I like about the treatment of this character is that he isn’t treated as a complete social outcast. I wonder, though, if he wasn’t an ace athlete would he still be treated as well? That’s something to think about. He is given quite a bit of respect by his coaches and the other athletes because of his swimming prowess. But if you take that skill away would he still be treated with respect? In any case, the drama hints at showing that because his teammates get to know him they realize what a great guy he actually is.
Around 40: Assorted
The main characters are not people with any mental illness or disability. Instead, they work in the psychiatric field. Ogata Satoko (Amami Yuki) is a psychiatrist at a hospital and her co-worker, Okamura Keitaro (Fujiki Naohito), is a clinical psychologist. It is their job to see to the mental health of their patients. Some of the issues that their patients face are: depression, selective mutism, PTSD, and anxiety.
While mental health is not the main topic of this drama, it makes a concentrated effort to remove a bit of the stigma of mental illness. Watching them help their patients and talk to the patients’ families really helps viewers understand this field. It also demonstrates that there are treatment options. How brave the patients are for seeking help! The two protagonists of this drama really want to help others and they both have dreams of providing mental health support to patients on a grander scale.
Me Too, Flower!: Depression
In this drama, the female protagonist, Cha Bong Sun (Lee Ji Ah), has severe depression. Rather than keeping it to herself, she seeks therapy. What’s difficult about her situation is that she is a police officer, so she has to keep face and put up a strong front for her job. However, the lead male, Seo Jae Hee (Yoon Shi Yoon), is sensitive to her emotions and sees that she is suffering. He helps her the best he can and in the process the two of them fall in love.
Let’s clarify things a bit. Depression cannot be easily cured by falling in love. Yes, it will make things happier, but people with depression do need medical and psychological help. I don’t know if Cha Bong Sun’s depression is a temporary thing (most people have experienced depression at some point in their lives after all), but if her depression is severe enough she would need many years of treatment. However, I do appreciate the fact that the drama addresses the seriousness of this issue and that it is an illness…not a weakness. She is a strong character who doesn’t let the depression define who she is.
Flower Boy Next Door: Social Anxiety
Go Dok Mi (Park Shin Hye) is a recluse. She has Social Anxiety big time (I’m not sure if it would also be agoraphobia since it is people that is the issue rather than being outside in general). She rarely leaves her home and when she does leave, she takes precautions so that her contact with people is at a minimum. Then along comes Enrique Geum (Yoon Shi Yoon) and brings a breath of fresh air to Go Dok Mi’s life.
Now I’m not sure how it ends (as of this date I still have 6 episodes to watch), but I’m assuming it’s a happy ending. I wonder, however, if she still continues to have some social anxiety near the end. Even though she may possibly overcome many of her fears thanks to Enrique, it’s still an issue that needs serious consideration. In real life, love doesn’t conquer all I’m afraid. With her situation treatment is highly recommended, especially since it was triggered by a traumatic series of events from high school. Of course, it's been a while since I've seen it, but if I remember correctly she does have a therapist (someone please feel free to remind us) which is a good thing!
ST ~ Aka to Shiro no Sousa File: Assorted
In this procedural crime drama, most of the members of the Scientific Task Force have some sort of mental issue. Akagi Samon (Fujiwara Tatsuya) has social phobia; Aoyama Sho (Shida Mirai) has a fear of organization and order; Yuki Midori (Ashina Sei) has claustrophobia (not just in enclosed rooms but she also feels anxious if she feels she is trapped in a work or social obligation); Kurosaki Yuji (Kubota Masataka) doesn't talk to anybody and will only speak in a whisper to his work partner, Yamabuki Saizo (Miyake Hiroki). All the characters are top experts in their field, but they are socially inept due to their phobias and neuroses. Yurine Tomohisa (Okada Masaki) is the team leader who is trying to figure out how to handle this team. He soon comes to realize that each of them are essential to the police department.
While these characters don't seek professional help within the drama, the story does show that many people with mental health issues are super intelligent. In fact, you can search online and find numerous studies which show that highly intelligent people are prone to anxiety. Even though their "eccentricities" are supposed to provide comic relief, I really appreciate how their illnesses are taken seriously. Yes, their little "quirks" cause all sorts of trouble, but they are people whose illnesses do NOT define who they are. This is something that everyone needs to remember in real life as well.
There are quite a few other dramas that address mental health issues. Here are a few of them:
Good Doctor (savant autism)
It’s Okay, That’s Love (ocd, anxiety, schizophrenia, therapy, etc..)
Daisuki! (intellectual disability)
Can You Hear My Heart (intellectual disability)
With the popularity of these dramas that have characters who have mental health issues one would hope that the stigma associated with mental illness will disappear. But even in the United States there is a bit of a stigma associated with mental illness (how many times have I heard or seen comments like "just get over it", "it's all in your mind", "stop having a pity party", "just be happy", "calm down!", etc...), so I doubt that Asian countries will be free of the stigma any time soon. The important thing, though, is that there is an awareness and people are working on making others aware of these important issues.
While these shows are popular, it is because so many people can relate to them. An average of 25% of the adult population has some sort of mental health issue. If you are one of these people, then please get help now. Having a mood disorder, mental illness, or a mental handicap is not a sign of weakness. It is simply an illness. Don’t be afraid; go seek help. If you know someone with an illness, disorder, or disability remember that their illness doesn't definte who they are as a person, but please be understanding of the challenges they deal with on an every day basis.
If there are any other dramas you would like to recommend that deal with this stigmatized subject please comment below.