9 K-Dramas That Talk About Mental Health
From slow-burn romances to slice of life narratives, K-dramas have served us wholesome narratives. Many have highlighted political, economic, and sociocultural issues that impact society, deftly weaving them into scenarios. A consistent theme in dramas these days is mental health. K-dramas have poignantly and sensitively built awareness around mental health and highlighted the different struggles that fall under it. As the characters come to terms and heal from their particular issues, this in turn empowers the viewer too—realizing that you’re not alone is somehow empowering. Relatable and striking an emotive chord, here are nine K-dramas that talk about mental health.
One of the chapters in the anthology “Our Blues” is that of Min Seon Ah (Shin Min Ah), a young mother suffering from depression. The show succinctly highlights her existential exhaustion, the inability to carry on daily chores, being disconnected from the present, and her confused state, which is highlighted by ripples and blur. She loses the custody of her child given her current state. But as she seeks therapy, she is also helped by the brusque traveling salesman named Lee Dong Suk (Lee Byung Hun), who himself has a fractured relationship with his mother after the death of his sister.
From Dong Suk’s fractured relationship with his mother to Young Ok’s (Han Ji Min’s) feelings of guilt of abandoning her sister, “Our Blues” is a bittersweet heartwarming story of small town folk living on Jeju Island navigating through life, love, and everything in between. If someone is rekindling a long forgotten romance, there is also reckless young love or just folks traversing through the chaos of day to day life. These simple stories strike an epiphany which is the show’s poignant tag line: “To all those who are alive let’s be happy.” Brilliant performances, a picturesque landscape, and heartwarming stories make this one a must watch. The show also has one of the best soundtracks which includes “With You,” a collaboration between BTS member Jimin and Ha Sung Woon.
Lee Ji An (IU) is a debt-ridden young woman who has never had it easy. Ji An is just trying to stay afloat on the turbulent ripples of her life. As she hustles between several part time jobs and is looking after her ailing grandmother, she is constantly depressed. Overwhelmed with life, she feels as if there is nothing to look forward to, and the lingering wave of sadness keeps enveloping her. However, things change when she meets Park Dong Hoon (Lee Sun Gyun), an empathetic and optimistic office worker. He becomes her friend, philosopher, and guide and helps her look at the bright side of life and give her the emotional support she seeks.
“My Mister” is a masterpiece. It is unassuming, comforting, and a brilliantly crafted show that needs to be savored. The raw and real performances by IU and Lee Sun Gyun are solidly spectacular to say the least.
Start watching “My Mister”:
“It’s Okay, That’s Love”
Jang Jae Yeol (Jo In Sung) is a bestselling mystery novelist and a radio jockey. He is moody, sometimes playful, and a bit pompous at times. He suffers from an obsessive compulsive disorder, which has its origins in his traumatic past. Ji Hae Soo (Gong Hyo Jin) is a sympathetic psychiatrist totally committed to her career but is totally pessimistic when it comes to love and relationships. Jae Yeol and Hae Soo start off on the wrong foot, and their volatility is further aggravated by their strong personalities. However, as they grow close and fall in love, they realize that Jae Yeol’s mental health issues are far more serious than what they had anticipated. There is also Park Soo Kwang (Lee Kwang Soo), who has Tourette’s Syndrome, and Jo Dong Min (Sung Dong Il), who cohabit in the same quarters as Hae Soo. Together, these individuals embark on a journey of healing and empowerment.
Watching Jang Jae Yeol struggle with schizophrenia evokes compassion and an understanding for those who may be dealing with similar issues. And Ji Hae Soo as the psychiatrist who helps heal him is endearing to watch. The show and the openness that is presented in this drama toward mental health help to amplify that it is totally fine to accept what you are going through and seek help.
Start watching “It’s Okay, That’s Love”:
“It’s Okay to Be Not Okay”
Moon Kang Tae (Kim Soo Hyun) is a caregiver at a psychiatric hospital. He is devoted to serving his patients, but his world revolves around the wellbeing of his older brother Sang Tae (Oh Jung Se). Sang Tae is an aspiring artist who is on the autism spectrum. Both brothers have had a tough childhood as Sang Tae continues to be traumatized by his mother’s death and the memories of which can trigger a meltdown. Moon Young (Seo Ye Ji) is a highly strung bestselling writer of children’s books. Emotionally detached and unapologetic to the point of being obnoxious, she is not a people’s person. Moon Young is a troubled young woman who is trapped in the memories of her dark childhood. When Moon Young falls in love with Gang Tae, she tries to win him over in her own overbearing way, by manipulating Sang Tae to illustrate her book. Over time, these three form a close kinship, being the family to each other they have never had.
“It’s Okay to Be Not Okay” sensitively deals with issues pertaining to mental health, especially on how childhood trauma when unattended leaves deep wounds and emotional scars. It’s an insightful watch into the distinct personalities of these characters, whose pasts shaped their present but also embark on a hopeful journey of emotional healing. Seo Ye Ji is raw and real as the complexed Go Moon Young, which is off set by Kim Soo Hyun as the mild yet stoic Kang Tae. And Oh Jung Se is brilliant as Sang Tae, giving a succinctly sensitive performance.
Dreams are crushed and hopes are dashed when their world comes crashing down. “Just Between Lovers” is the story of two individuals who have been suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. Lee Kang Doo (Lee Junho) had dreams of becoming a soccer player, but an onsite accident at a mall kills his father and leaves Kang Doo with a grievous injury. Kang Doo is a gruff young man dealing with anxiety, debts, and a future that seems hopeless. He meets Ha Moon Soo (Won Jin Ah), a survivor from the same accident. Moon Soo is wracked by guilt and is of the belief that her presence ruins things for others. Bound together by their shared sorrows, unprocessed grief, and struggles, these two lonely individuals form a deep connection. As they support each other, they also heal each other as they process their shared grief.
As a slow-burn love story, these two individuals pick up the torn pieces of their life and put them together. Lee Junho brings forth the complexities of Lee Kang Doo’s personality, evoking deep sentiment for his character’s plight.
Start watching “Just Between Lovers”:
“Kill Me, Heal Me”
Do Hyun (Ji Sung) is the heir apparent to a huge company, but his name evokes loud whispers amongst the hallways of the conglomerate. Do Hyun is getting treated for his complicated mental health issues. He suffers from a dissociative identity disorder and “lives” with six other personalities, each of whom come to the surface depending on the situation. Do Hyun has created these personalities to deal with his traumatic and abusive past as a child, which continues to haunt him in adulthood. When Ri Jin (Hwang Jung Eum), a psychiatric resident, runs into Shin Se Gi, an abrasive rockstar, she later realizes that it is one of Do Hyun’s many personalities. Ri Jin soon discovers that she and Do Hyun shared a past as children. Though her memories are gone, it is the deeply embedded issues stemming from those memories that hold the key to Do Hyun’s mental health.
“Kill Me, Heal Me” is a meticulously written psychological drama. The seemingly tense moments are balanced with humor, and Ji Sung’s versatility as an actor comes to the surface as he exquisitely brings forth the many personalities of Do Hyun’s character. And Park Seo Joon as Ri Oh, Ri Jin’s quirky investigative novelist brother, is an added bonus.
Start watching “Kill Me, Heal Me”:
Jang Sun Kyul (Yoon Kyun Sang) is a bright and accomplished young man. He suffers from severe mysophobia, the fear of germs. Sun Kyul cares a lot about things being spick and span—no speck of dust and no stains should ever be visible to him. He takes being clean to an all new level and even runs a cleaning company. Then there’s Oh Sol (Kim Yoo Jung), who is carefree and messy—cleanliness is not her forte. Oh Sol starts working for Sun Kyul’s company and is a bright, hard working person. Not one to spend time on luxuries and other vanities of life, messy Oh Sol helps Sun Kyul face his mysophobia.
“Clean with Passion for Now,” based on the webtoon of the same name, is a whacky fun watch. Yoon Kyun Sang as the paranoid and brusque CEO Sun Kyul gives a nuanced performance while Kim Yoo Jung as the awkward yet spunky Oh Sol keeps up the momentum. The drama sensitively showcases Sun Kyul’s phobia, which is a debilitating psychological condition and hampers his ability to live normally, including his relationships. The love and support he gets from Oh Sol helps him combat his fears and issues. It’s a drama that is certainly worth the watch.
Start watching “Clean with Passion For Now”:
“Hyde, Jekyll, Me”
Seo Jin (Hyun Bin) is a rich, arrogant, and kind of mean CEO of a theme park. He suffers from a dissociative personality disorder. His other fragmented personality is that of Robin, a playful and endearingly kind man. When the newly appointed circus manager Ha Na (Han Ji Min) comes on the scene, things get complicated. She and Seo Jin butt heads from the very first meeting, while Robin, with his smiling face and charming ways, sweeps Ha Na off her feet. Soon after Robin’s mysterious disappearance, Ha Na discovers Seo Jin is battling a serious mental health issue, which has its roots in his childhood.
This drama weaves in suspense and mystery along with its psychological theme. The characters are well written, and the show underlines the aspects that good and bad are found in each one of us and to treat people with utmost kindness. Plus Hyun Bin is an utter delight as both Seo Jin and Robin. Whether he is scowling or smiling, the man is a scene stealer.
Start watching “Hyde, Jekyll, Me”:
Lee Shi Joon (Shin Ha Kyun) is a psychiatrist who has novel ways of healing his patients. He is genuinely concerned about them, and though many find his ways eccentric, he manages to helps his clients come to terms with their trauma and mental health issues. Han Woo Joo (Jung So Min) is an actress, known to have panic attacks and emotional meltdowns. When Shi Joon meets Woo Joo, he goes out of his way to help her heal. Patient and dedicated in counseling her, Shi Joon helps Woo Joo get past the many issues which prevent her from living her best life. The love story which develops over the course is simply delightful.
“Fix You” showcases how getting the right counselor and therapist can go a long way in helping patients deal with their issues. An engrossingly unique and inspiring drama, “Fix You” is a highly underrated show that should definitely be on your watch list.
Start watching “Fix You”:
Hey Soompiers, which one of these shows is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!
Puja Talwar is a Soompi writer with a strong Yoo Tae Oh and Lee Junho bias. A long time K-drama fan, she loves devising alternate scenarios to the narratives. She has interviewed Lee Min Ho, Gong Yoo, Cha Eun Woo, and Ji Chang Wook to name a few. You can follow her on @puja_talwar7 on Instagram.
Currently watching “Legend Of The Blue Sea“