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The Peninsula

Learning From Past Public Policy

Published April 17, 2022

In response to public health issues arising from growing cases of adults suffering from loneliness, Seoul Metropolitan Government announced a plan on April 7 to offer support programs to 1,200 socially-isolated young adults. This plan consists of in-depth counseling, confidence-boosting sessions, employment search support, and other forms of training.

Seoul’s proactive response to social isolation is another example of local governments playing a bigger role in tackling this nation-wide issue. However, these efforts have not always targeted the root of the issue. One example of this is the adoption of AI care robots in South Chungcheong Province that aimed to prevent suicide through remote counseling. The pilot care program here did not address the underlying social stigma around seeking help for mental health challenges.

Seoul also tackled the issue of social isolation in the past without raising the issue of mental health. A previous program called the “City of Sharing” sought to promote regular community check-ins on the elderly and foster interactions between neighbors. But the program did not explicitly have a counseling component and could not address mental health issues. Learning from this oversight, Seoul’s newest initiative incorporates counseling as part of its program.

While mental health is still stigmatized in South Korea, Seoul’s initiative shows the potential for how treatment can be incorporated into a wider set of social support programs in the future. Simultaneously, public policy aimed at reducing the country’s mental health crisis will require complementary measures such as reversing elderly poverty, safer labor practices, and greater inclusion of alienated communities.

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Kayla Harris, David Lee, Sarah Marshall, and Mai Anna Pressley. Picture from the flickr account of paolo palma

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