“All of us are crazy in one way or another," director Park Shin-woo of the acclaimed 2020 K-drama It's Okay to Not Be Okay once said. Yet, avenues through which the topic of mental health is explored are still far and few in between.
South Korea, a country where nearly 38 people kill themselves every day (the highest among the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's 37-member countries), has much room to grow when it comes to destigmatising the ‘uncomfortable’ conversations surrounding mental health. Its traditional and conservative framework has been set up in such a way that those with mental disorders are viewed as outcasts or failures, thus leaving most ignored, neglected, and untreated.
Whilst discussions can’t be had, the South Korean entertainment industry has been stealthily sliding into screenplays and music to deliver messages of hope and support in order to shift the narrative and ignite change in how mental illness is treated. Here are seven popular K-dramas that both entertained and shed light on the elephant in the room.
1. It’s Okay to Not Be Okay
Moon Gang-tae (Kim Soo-hyun) lives with his older brother Moon Sang-tae (Oh Jung-se) who has autism. They frequently move from town to town ever since Sang-tae witnessed their mother's murder. Gang-Tae works as a caretaker in a psychiatric ward at every place they settle in. While working in a hospital, he meets famous children's book writer Ko Moon-young (Seo Yea-ji), who is rumoured to have an antisocial personality disorder.
Circumstances lead Gang-tae to work at the OK Psychiatric Hospital in Seongjin City, the same city where they all lived when they were young. Meanwhile, Moon-young forms a romantic obsession for Gang-tae after finding out that their pasts overlap. She follows him to Seongjin, where the trio (including Sang-tae) slowly begins to heal each other's emotional wounds. They unravel many secrets, seek comfort from each other and move forward in their lives.
It's Okay to Not Be Okay received eight nominations with two wins (Best Supporting Actor and Television and Technical Award for costume design) at the 57th Baeksang Arts Awards. It also bagged a nomination at the 49th International Emmy Awards in the Best TV Movie or Miniseries category.
Stream it on Netflix here.