Hwa-byung, or anger/fire disease, occurs in Korean middle aged women who are dealing with problematic familial relationships or being treated poorly or unfairly and is often a result of repressing anger and frustration from a situation. An article in Health Care for Women International states that, “Hwa differs from Western conceptualizations of anger because it implies the accumulation of a range of emotions such as frustration, anxiety, anger, apprehension, and disappointment for an extended period of time in conjunction with physical manifestations (Min, Lee, Kang, & Lee, 1987; Park, Kim, Kang, & Kim, 2001).” It is believed that due to the nature of the Korean culture to endure and not outwardly express displeasure or frustration and the importance placed on familial ties, experiencing trauma or discord within the family can lead to heightened emotional states, outbursts, anger, and physical discomfort.
In 2012 when this study was published, it is believed that hwa-byung impacted about 5% of the Korean population, focusing in on those who experience low socioeconomic status, low education levels, and stuck in stereotypical gender roles. Although these are common factors, there are many others that can contribute to experiencing hwa-byung. Many women who experience hwa-byung either seek out traditional treatment or Western medicine. Depending on the journal, results of whether the women sought out traditional or Western treatment depended on where the women themselves were located, either within Korea or elsewhere. Some patients sought out Christian faith healing and shamanic methods. Because “hwa-byung is closely related to an oppressive environment, many treatment methods including psychotherapy, drug treatment, family therapy and community approaches have been suggested (Min et al., 1989; Kang & Lee, 1998). It is also necessary for psychiatrists to enrich their treatment strategies with teachings from traditional and religious healing methods.”
Some Korean female immigrants to America also suffer from this illness. Psychiatric treatment, similar to how one would work with those who have depression or anxiety, proves to be effective. Desire to find an effective treatment for those who suffer from hwa-byung has been on-going since the 1970s and, much like anxiety and depression, it is still not entirely clear as to what the most effective treatment of this would be.