How It All Started
Words synonymous with Korea’s claim to fame: Samsung. BTS. Suicide.
It’s no secret that South Korea, a country praised for its economic reform and international K-culture influence, has at its root a large population suffering crippling mental health.
South Korea consistently lists in the highest ranks of death by suicide among developed countries in the world in all age-related categories — from teens to the elderly.
The most recent aggregated world health data from the OECD ranked Korea at the top (24.6 deaths by suicide per 100,000 people) in 2017, followed closely by Lithuania (24.4 out of 100,000).
That’s about 1000 Korean people taking their own lives each month.
What drives citizens in a nation of vast wealth and social influence to the brinks of despair?
Celebrity suicides, most notably the recent deaths of beloved K-pop idols, Sulli and Goo Hara, have dug up the usual suspects in Korea’s suicide blame game: high stress associated with incessant competition, exhausting work hours, and malicious online attacks.
Tae Kim is concerned not only with the causes of suicide but its prevention.
Born in Korea, Tae at the age of three moved to Los Angeles, a city known for its troubled youth involved in gangs, drugs, and violence.
Working in accounting as an auditor, he volunteered after work hours in self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Criminal Gangs Anonymous (CGA).
For several of these therapy groups, Tae became the chairman, which involved facilitating discussions and leading members to coping strategies.
How did Gideb begin?
I moved to Korea last year from LA, and I was looking to get involved in community service. Before coming to Korea, I was involved in one-on-one mentoring, Big Brother programs, and various self-help groups. But these types of programs were pretty much non existent here. That’s when I came up with the idea to open up self-help options for mental health in Korea.
How does Gideb create options for mental health care in Korea?
We are strong advocates for in real life therapy. But in Korea, these options aren’t openly available. Gideb is a platform that connects people to reputable therapists and self-help groups throughout the country. We’re also creating an online journal therapy model that will help people work out their issues in between face-to-face therapy sessions.
What are the challenges in creating a mental health service in Korea, where the stigma for treatment is still high?
We’re focusing on adults in Korea, as there have been many government supports for mental health suffering among youth. Despite this, the stigma remains high. Just recently, the government enacted a law that restricts hospitals from sharing patient information to third parties. Before this, people have been fired from their jobs for having this information released, and it’s hard to change the mindset of people who are scared to openly seek help.
How does Gideb ensure patient privacy?
Our team is ensuring our company protects user data and remains compliant to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a new standard set in 2016 for companies in the European Union (EU) to maintain individual data privacy with strict systems and processes.
It mirrors our own ethical standard. And if this helps more Koreans to come forward to seeking mental health treatment, that would be great.
What is your business model?
Creating a business model out of therapy is difficult in Korea due to government regulations in commission-based revenue in medical care. Gideb had to go through loopholes to create a sustainable business model, which includes an online therapy journaling service where its special features can be purchased.
Why such a focus on journaling for therapy?
A lot of our research shows in real life therapy combined with journaling therapy can have the most effective results.
How are you moving forward with this focus on journaling as therapy?
We’ve recently partnered with InnovatorsBox (innovatorsbox.com), a US-based company that promotes creativity in the workplace through stress reduction and changing mindsets in the form of writing prompts. If a person is not used to journaling or has a hard time starting writing, we can help.
The initial name for their platform – Descry, meaning in English to “catch or discover,” has now branched out with more localized support, under a new brand name – Gideb, meaning in Korean to “lean on me.”
Descry/Gideb is continuing to partner with other companies such as 3 Seconds of Hope, a suicide prevention organization in Korea.
In 2020, they plan to launch their MVP to test out the journaling, therapist scheduling, and other mental health supports provided by Descry and Gideb.
In the last three months, their social platform has connected over 20 people to mental health providers throughout Seoul.
Last year, Tae Kim lost one of his best friends to suicide, and he wants to share a platform for people to realize: “You are not alone.”