The Hyowon Healing Center in Seoul, Korea takes an unorthodox approach to mental health issues — by simulating death for its clients. Groups of 30 or more individuals attend a regular seminar that includes activities like planning your own funeral, saying goodbye to your loved ones, and finally, as the lid closes on each individual’s coffin, an imagined facsimile of your own death.
In general, Seoul has had a mostly hands off approach topics of depression and suicide. “In Korea, people tend to keep their mental problems and hardships to themselves”, Taiyun Kim explains. “And if you were to tell anyone, it would be shameful.” But Taiyun is part of a new generation of Koreans attempting to confront the issue. A recent trend toward “healing” puts mental health in the spotlight by attempting to normalize the symptoms, and offer unique methods of dealing with them.
While traditional therapy in Seoul was sought across the table from a fortune teller, “healing cafes”, a place to get a latte and speak with a licensed therapist have popped up all over the city. Korea’s megabrand turned guardian angel, Samsung, re-imagined a bridge that was the sad host to many suicides, as the “Healing Bridge”. And that death simulation by the good folks at the Hyowon Healing Center — perhaps their existential suicide might be enough to forestall actual suicide. A more constructive form of self-destruction.