Question from a reader: diagnosed with depression
A reader I’ll keep anonymous writes in:
My name is [redacted] I’m a returned Peace Corps Volunteer living here in [city redacted]. I came across your blog on a Google search for information about teaching English in Korea. I currently have to friends who are past PCV’s teaching with EPIK in Korea.
I have a very strong interest to teach in Korea this fall, but I keep on running into setbacks. I was told that Footprints Recruiting, Reach to Teach, and the EPIK programs are reliable sources for find teaching jobs. As a result of events that occurred as I was serving as a PCV, I was diagnosed with depression. I am currently taking an anti-depressant. I share this very personal fact with you (a completely stranger) because I am at my wits-end trying to figure out what to do. I have been reading several posts/websites/applications that state if you have a history/or currently struggling with a mental health issue/depression that your chances of landing a job and slim to none. One post from Footprints even went as far as saying it is something that is stigmatized in Korea. Are you familiar with the part about the government testing blood and seeing what medication you are on? Does this happen with every school you apply for?
I’ll start by saying my entire experience is anecdotal, and that I’m probably looking at some of the same sources as you. I answered a similar question last year – the psychological question is part of a catch-all ‘darned if you do, darned if you don’t’ screening question, and from a quick Google search has come up in many other forums. The problem arises when the people that ask the question never provide any follow-up on how things turned out.
In the interest of providing a simple, short, sweet answer: consider a hagwon job. The private school jobs are open and relatively easy to find year-round, put forth fewer screening hassles, and are more likely to see your experience as an asset. Finding good hagwons are challenging – just like finding good public schools – but you’ll be more likely to find a job without excessive personal health questions.
Note that the health checks are part of the visa acquisition process, NOT part of the school’s hiring process. For the same reason there’s no need to proceed with someone who has a criminal record, it’s a good way to filter out the applicants that won’t make it past Immigration. While some recruiters for hagwon jobs may ask something similar, the responses are more easily given, and more casually received.
As for the blood test, I can only say that there’s probably lots of things they can test for. That most employers seem interested in a small subset of possibilities (e.g. illegal drugs) mean the existence of a prescribed drug might not make a difference. At least one person on ESL Cafe claims to have taken Paxil “continuously for nearly 10 years” and teaching in Korea for 2 years. Either it doesn’t show up, it doesn’t disqualify you, or it’s no big deal.
Don’t fly to Korea to find a job, however. Lifted from one of my previous answers:
Bear in mind that if you come to Korea without a job / visa in your passport, your status as ‘tourist’ means you can’t legally start working until the working visa is taken care of. That means a visa run to Japan – fly to Fukuoka, Japan, visit the Korean embassy there, pick up your visa, and fly back to Korea with the new shiny addendum to your passport. One point I feel obligated to make: If the school or recruiter insists you can work on a tourist visa, walk away. It’s illegal and can cause far more problems than you want.
That visa can also take a few weeks to get – and there’s no guarantee the job will remain open for that long.
I am currently taking an anti-depressant.
The biggest question that remains is whether you need the anti-depressant in order to function normally, and what happens if you go off of it. Finding that specific medicine may be a difficult question – while it’s best to bring a supply, you’ll probably be able to find an English-speaking doctor in Itaewon (central Seoul) that understands.
Finally, the stigma and lack of knowledge on depression is much like the Western world several decades ago. It wasn’t understood, people didn’t know how to handle issues, and taking medicine to deal with a condition was either a sign of weakness or a lack of control. Accept that the stigma exists, that it’s going away slowly, and that you’ll find help here if you need it.
Readers, add your anecdotal 20 won here! Any good doctors you’ve heard about, or places you’ve heard about getting anti-depression medicine?
© Chris Backe – 2011
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