By: L. Pereira
South Korea has one of the highest rates of insomnia in the world. Combining long hours of work and few worker protection policies, the government has been able to achieve both rapid economic growth and significant poverty reduction. While this is admirable, testimonials from people who have lived in these conditions show that the workers' mental health suffers greatly impacted.
Ji-Eun, a woman who worked in public relations, indicated that her workdays began at 7 a.m. and ended at 10 p.m., sometimes extending until three a.m. if the day was more complicated. She claimed that because of these long hours, "she forgot how to rest" and was quickly diagnosed with acute insomnia.
Regardless of how severe the insomnia crisis has become, an even bigger issue has arisen: people who have trouble sleeping quickly resort to self-medication, sometimes in conjunction with alcohol. In the clinic “Dream sleep” in Seoul, a psychiatrist specializing in insomnia stated that it was normal to receive patients who took twenty pills or more daily. According to the Cleveland Clinic, it should take around twenty minutes to induce sleep in a normal adult, although it is not concerning if that period is slightly longer. As a result of extended work hours, many in South Korea seek an easy fix, leading to the sleeping pill crisis.
The addiction to sleeping pills has had a significant impact on its population, with 100,000 adults suffering from this addiction. South Korea, in addition to having a dangerously high rate of insomnia, also possess the highest suicide rate among developed countries, the highest consumption of alcoholic beverages per capita, and a high number of people being medicated with antidepressants.
There are several plausible explanations for these worrisome statistics, but the main reason is the country's economic rise. It is not a country that can rely on its natural resources; thus, it must rely on its people, burdening its citizens with the demand for a large and powerful workforce. It results in a community that is overworked, anxious, and sleep deprived. Thus, insomnia is a contributor to suicidal sentiments, which may explain their high suicide rate.
Now, an entire business has sprung up around a sleep-deprived society, estimated to be worth $2.55 billion US dollars in 2019. Despite South Korea’s Buddhist history, its culture has changed alongside its economy, causing meditation and therapeutic approaches to be disregarded and replaced by chemical remedies.