Hwabyeong in Korea

Hwabyeong is considered a mental illness prominent in Korea, believed to be a result of people being unable to confront their anger, specifically when anger is being repressed or built up from an unfair circumstance.  Literally meaning, “fire disease”, this unresolved anger manifests itself as a built up in the body, interrupting the spiritual homeostasis of the body.  Hwabyeong often occurs in middle aged, menopausal women who live in traditional families who are stressed by their societal roll placed by males. Symptoms can present themselves in a spectrum of ways, ranging from anger and heat sensation to depression, headache epigastric mass, lumps on the chest, insomnia and palpitations.  This subjective interruption of the body can cause even further social damage, depending on the outlet one chooses to use. The diaphoretic mood and thoughts, if not resolved, can become thoughts of homicide or suicide in extreme cases.  Many western cultures would consider this to be equivalent to depression or anxiety.  However at it’s initial manifestations don’t represent what is known to be a psychiatric illness.


Treatments vary, and are grossly dependent on the patient and their willingness to cooperate. If the patient believes this is part of their culture, a part of their life that is fortified, then treatment is limited to social groups such as family, friends and community that can slowly diffuse and talk about the issue. Other direct treatments include psychotherapy and drug therapy. One method used by religious healing is to resolve and replace the negative memories with positive ones.  The biggest issue with treatment would be that people are diagnosed with hwabyeong have most likely low socioeconomic status, which means that not only are treatment options are very limited, but also options for that person are also limited. One would hope that government would get involved, but this is very unlikely.


Work Cited:

Suh, Soyoung. “Stories to Be Told: Korean Doctors Between Hwa-byung (Fire-Illness) and Depression, 1970–2011”. Cult Med Psychiatry. 2013 March; 37(1): 81–104. Published online 2012 December 11.


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