When assessing the psychiatric ramifications of immigration across diverse ethnic and racial groups, cross-cultural variations of mental illness should be considered. Using hwabyung, an indigenous psychiatric illness commonly found in Korean culture, this study examines the psychological ramifications of immigration among Korean men in the United States.
Most Korean immigrants enjoyed a higher socioeconomic status while living in Korea that often diminished after they immigrated to the United States. This is especially common for men as they struggle to restart their careers with limited English proficiency. Such experiences may increase their psychological vulnerability. However, the ability of Korean immigrant men to cope with acculturation challenges must not be overlooked.
The goal of this study is to advance current cross-cultural psychiatric knowledge by examining the predictors of hwabyung symptoms among Korean immigrant men in the United States. The following question guided the current study: What is the relative importance of individual characteristics, family cohesion, economic stress, self-esteem, and social support on hwabyung symptoms among Korean immigrant men? It was hypothesized that differences in individual characteristics, family cohesion, economic stress, self-esteem, and social support affect the changes in their hwabyung symptoms.
This cross-sectional study employed a non-probability sampling procedure. The participants were adult Korean men who immigrated to the United States at the age of 18 or older. In addition to individual characteristics, the data collection procedure involved a self-administered anonymous survey consisting of five standardized Korean language instruments. Data collected from 99 voluntary participants were analyzed using hierarchical multiple regression (R2).
The outcomes of the hierarchical multiple regression (R2) analysis demonstrated that individual characteristics, family cohesion, economic stress, and coping resources explained 42% of the variance in hwabyung symptoms [F (11, 84) = 5.52; p < .001]. The incremental change for each of the three blocks was statistically significant. Among those relevant to individual characteristics, in the first block, the graduate school education attained in the United States (4.6%) and speaking Korean (6.3%) at home were found to have significant impacts on hwabyung symptoms. In the second block, however, newly added variables, family cohesion (5.34%) and economic stress (9.49%) were found to be significant in explaining the hwabyung symptoms. In the third block, economic stress (6.76%) remained to be significant along with a newer variable social support (13.69%).
Conclusions and Implications:
The findings of the current study highlight the importance of understanding the psychiatric ramifications of immigration among Korean men in the context of their culture, which shapes their illness and coping behaviors. Due to the patriarchal cultural tradition, the inability of Korean immigrant men to fulﬁll the role of the family provider can play a significant role in their experiences with hwabyung symptoms. At the same time, driven by their sense of collectivistic cultural traits, social support shared by a member of their own ethnic community may have a positive impact on the psychological well-being of Korean immigrant men in the United States.