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, 11 (4), 363-70

Psychiatry in Former Socialist Countries: Implications for North Korean Psychiatry


Psychiatry in Former Socialist Countries: Implications for North Korean Psychiatry

Young Su Park et al. Psychiatry Investig.


Very little information is available regarding psychiatry in North Korea, which is based on the legacy of Soviet psychiatry. This paper reviews the characteristics of psychiatry in former socialist countries and discusses its implications for North Korean psychiatry. Under socialism, psychiatric disorders were attributed primarily to neurophysiologic or neurobiological origins. Psychosocial or psychodynamic etiology was denied or distorted in line with the political ideology of the Communist Party. Psychiatry was primarily concerned with psychotic disorders, and this diagnostic category was sometimes applied based on political considerations. Neurotic disorders were ignored by psychiatry or were regarded as the remnants of capitalism. Several neurotic disorders characterized by high levels of somatization were considered to be neurological or physical in nature. The majority of "mental patients" were institutionalized for a long periods in large-scale psychiatric hospitals. Treatment of psychiatric disorders depended largely on a few outdated biological therapies. In former socialist countries, psychodynamic psychotherapy was not common, and psychiatric patients were likely to experience social stigma. According to North Korean doctors living in South Korea, North Korean psychiatry is heavily influenced by the aforementioned traditions of psychiatry. During the post-socialist transition, the suicide rate in many of these countries dramatically increased. Given such mental health crises in post-socialist transitional societies, the field of psychiatry may face major challenges in a future unified Korea.

Keywords: North Korea; Psychiatry; Socialism.

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