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‘Rising unemployment worsens physical, mental health of young adults’
  • By Marian Chu
  • Published 2018.02.13 11:10
  • Updated 2018.02.13 11:10
  • comments 0

Economic hardship, unrelenting competition, and rising unemployment are starting to affect the physical and mental health of Koreans in their 20s, a local hospital said Monday.

Rising unemployment and social stress are leading young Korean adults to develop physical and mental health problems.

The stress-ridden life in modern Korean society is now leading droves of young Koreans to seek medical care at hospitals, breaking the widely held notion that those in their 20s are in their physical and mental prime.

“Many people believe that those in their 20s do not have any health problems but analysis of various data shows that there is an error in the formula where ‘youth equals health,’” said Kim Jin-ri, the section chief of H-plus Yangji Hospital’s department of family medicine.

According to the hospital, the reimbursement costs for medical care of young adults rose steeply by 30 percent, most likely due to unhealthy daily habits and too much stress.

The “NEET” generation -- referring to the young adults “not in education, employment or training” -- and the “three-abandonment generation” that gave up on seeking jobs, spouses and houses have been experiencing seemingly insurmountable difficulties in what has previously been considered primary facets of young adult life.

“Those in their 20s must sacrifice everything. The correlated stress can influence the body and the mind and requires a practical solution,” Kim said.

The lack of time and money are also leading many young adults to eat alone on a regular basis. Eating alone has become so prevalent that locals refer to the act as “honbab,” a literal translation of “eating alone.”

But those eating in solitude are not always eating healthy, the hospital said. According to a survey, around 20 percent of those who ate alone mainly ate instant, processed foods. Everyday diets included foods high in nitrate or salt and processed foods such as packaged meat products. And the shift toward unhealthy dietary habits may be causing a steep rise in the number of gastrointestinal diseases among 20-somethings.

In 2016, around 343,000 young adults in their 20s developed stomach and esophageal reflux diseases, which was 20 percent higher than five years before, according to Health Insurance Review and Assessment Service data. Statistics also showed around 656,000 individuals in their 20s got enteritis, or intestinal inflammation, marking a near 30 percent increase over the cited period.

Another dark statistic pertains to the high suicide rate in the country. Suicide was the leading cause of death for those in their 20s, indicating that societal pressures may also be increasing the prevalence of mental health issues.

“The economy is getting worse, and unemployment is rising. The first thing resulting from these changes is often the prevalence of mental illness,” said Dr. Noh Gyu-shik, a psychiatrist and an expert on child and adolescent psychology. “A declining economy increases the incidence and re-hospitalization rate of not only depression but also other psychiatric diseases such as schizophrenia.”

Korea is a highly civilized society riddled with intense competition and high expectations of the individual. The stress originating from these factors sometimes lead to depression, he added.

According to 2015 data, around 27,000 young adults aged 20 to 24 years sought medical care for depression, indicating a 24 percent increase from 2011.

H-plus emphasized the importance of maintaining health, citing the difficulty of recovering health once lost. Keeping a healthy diet, such as eating three meals a day and taking at least 15 minutes to eat each meal, is essential to ward off stomach diseases, the hospital said. The hospital also recommended a diet that incorporates a wide range of nutritious foods and devoid of instant processed foods.

For mental health conditions such as depression and insomnia, the hospital recommended alerting others of one’s state and asking people surrounding him or her for help. A balanced lifestyle and routine daily habits also help avoid hormonal imbalances and mood swings associated with irregular lifestyle habits, the hospital added.


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