The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

The Effects of Coping Resources On Hwabyung Symptoms Among Korean Immigrants in the United States

Thursday, January 17, 2013: 3:30 PM
Executive Center 1 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Jonghyun Lee, PhD, Assistant Professor, Bridgewater State University, Bridgewater, MA
Background and Purpose:

The primary purpose of this study is to examine the impacts of coping resources on hwabyung symptoms experienced by Korean immigrants. Hwabyung is a Korean culture-bound syndrome caused by a prolonged suppression of stress. Almost 12% of Korean immigrants suffer from hwabyung (Lin et al, 1992). Despite its pervasiveness, little is known about hwabyung in the United States. Immigration requires changes in the lifestyle and behaviors of individuals. While adjusting to a new environment, Korean immigrants undergo multiple, drastic, and permanent changes that may upset family cohesion and financial security. Such challenges, in turn, increase their susceptibility to mental health issues. However, by calling on coping resources including social support and sense of self, immigrants may try to overcome the negative mental health effects of immigration experiences. The following questions guided this study: (1) What is the correlation between social support and sense of self-esteem? (3) What are the effects of social support, sense of self-esteem, family cohesion, economic hardship, and differences in individual characteristics on hwabyung symptoms?


This cross-sectional study employed a non-probability sampling procedure. The participants were adult Koreans who immigrated to the United States at the age of 18 or older. The data collection procedure involved a self-administered anonymous survey consisting of five standardized Korean language instruments. Data collected from an anonymous survey of 242 voluntary participants were analyzed using Pearson’s correlation coefficient (r), and hierarchical multiple regression (R2).


The correlation between social support and sense of self-esteem was (r=.33; p <.001). The hierarchical multiple regression (R2) analyses demonstrated that sense of self-esteem, social support, economic hardship, family cohesion, and individual characteristics explained 40.2% of the variance in hwabyung symptoms (F (16, 204) = 8.58; p <.001). Five independent variables including social support (14.9%), sense of self-esteem (4.7%), having a graduate school education in the United States (4.2%), receiving money from Korea (2.9%), and family cohesion (2.8%) were found to be significantly related to hwabyung symptoms.


This study addresses a number of cross-cultural practice implications. The findings demonstrate the important role of coping resources in explaining the level of hwabyung symptoms felt by Korean immigrants in the United States. For Koreans, family cohesion appears to be a valuable resource in alleviating the negative mental health effects of stressful immigration experiences. Also graduate education received in the United States appears to be a valuable capital that can increase their ability to achieve economic stability. Such a positive immigration experience may contribute to a decrease in hwabyung symptoms among Korean immigrants. Previous studies conducted in Korea found that factors contributing to hwabyung differ between men and women. Future research should assess the hwabyung experiences among Korean immigrants based on their gender.