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UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Help-seeking experiences of female Korean immigrants with hwa-byung in Canada Chi, Eugene


Under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.; DSM-5; American Psychiatric Association [APA], 2013), cultural concepts of distress have been identified as important to consider. One of the cultural syndromes identified is hwa-byung, which is associated with Korean cultural background. This disorder is common in Korea but relatively unknown in other countries. Korean immigrant populations in North America face pressures that impact their mental health, and hwa-byung appears to occur among Korean immigrants in North America. Given the cultural nature of the syndrome, it is not surprising that Korean immigrants with hwa-byung face challenges in their new home country, due to various reasons including difficulties communicating about their mental distress and a lack of understanding about hwa-byung by clinicians in Canada. There is also a taboo in Korean culture about seeking mental health services. This study aims to understand the experience of female first-generation Korean immigrants with hwa-byung in their help-seeking journey. The study was guided by the following question “What are first-generation Korean female immigrants’ experiences in their help-seeking journey to deal with their hwa-byung symptoms in Canada?” In-depth interviews were conducted with ten first-generation female Korean immigrants who held permanent residency or citizenship in Canada and self-identified as having hwa-byung. The data were analyzed through thematic analysis using the procedure described by Braun and Clarke (2006). Identified themes were: (a) lack of social support consisting of others’ lack of understanding, social isolation, and fear of judgement; (b) resentment toward people consisting of a sense of betrayal and anger; (c) gratitude for support; (d) self-blame about the situation; (e) uncertainty about the need to seek professional help; (f) feeling discouraged about seeking professional help consisting of lack of information, lack of suitable counsellors, and cost and time concerns; (g) self-coping strategies consisting of distraction, active self-help, expressing emotions, and destructive behaviours; (h) future expectations consisting of optimism and pessimism; and (i) longing for community. This study adds to the expanding research on challenges immigrants from Korea face when dealing with mental health problems.

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