SEOUL, Aug. 11 (Korea Bizwire) — In psychotherapy, one of the general principles is that an issue left unresolved will continue to be a recurring problem in the future. When looking at the current handwringing over the dearth of mental health care professionals for fire department personnel, it is apparent that psychological phenomena can also be used to describe the tendencies of large societies.
In 2014, the Ministry of the Interior and Safety conducted an exhaustive survey of the mental statuses of every single fire department employee nationwide. The results were grim. The study revealed that 39 percent of all fire department employees suffered from one or more of the following: stress disorders, depression, sleep disorders and alcohol use disorder.
Another study highlighted the poor mental health of fire department employees, albeit on a much smaller scale. A research team from the National Center for Mental Health conducted its own study with 212 firefighters as participants in an attempt to measure levels of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSS).
Their findings (34.4 percent were suffering from the disorder) bolstered what previous research had already proven: an undeniable, significant proportion of South Korean firemen were mentally unwell.
Whether due to a genuine lack of interest or a national tendency that is quick to dismiss all cases of mental illness as “weakness” or “selfishness” at worst, current enforcement of policies to provide mental health care has been poor.
For example, per legal requirements, from the city level on downwards (city, town, neighborhood, and so on) firefighters are guaranteed access to designated medical professionals. Which is what makes it highly unusual that Seoul, home to more than 10 million inhabitants, has zero medical professionals tasked specifically with treating fire department personnel.
There seems to be some recognition that changes need to be made. On August 10, it was reported that the Seoul Metropolitan Fire & Disaster Headquarters has begun a hiring process for qualified medical health care professionals.
However, whether the authorities recognize the severity of the problem is still up for debate. A spokesperson for the city government said, “The more [the city hires] the better, but right now the goal is to hire at least one person,” which means that under the worst case scenario there might be one mental health care professional for the entire city of Seoul.
With the city’s fire department running a “buddy program” to assist employees with psychological difficulties, the city’s lack of interest, lack of financial means, and lack of initiative means society is once again sending its bravest to put out literal and mental fires on their own.