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K-Dramas Take On Mental Health Issues

BY Julie Jones | Jul 15, 2014 09:24 AM EDT

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"It's Okay, It's Love" is about more than love. It's about falling in love with someone who has a mental health issue. This is fairly new territory for k-dramas. Yes, k-dramas have their share of sociopathic villains, whose lack of concern for others makes it convenient to hate them. But fewer characters with mental disabilities are portrayed in a sympathetic way.

That may be changing.

The new SBS drama "It's Okay, That's Love" is working to change that, said the screenwriter Noh Hee Kyung at the drama's press conference. He spoke about wanting to break the bias people have toward mental health issues.

The drama stars Jo In Sung as obsessive-compulsive writer and Gong Hyo Jin as a psychiatrist and it will feature several characters with various mental health issues.

 "About 80 percent of the nation has some mental illness symptoms, and about 20 percent should consider taking prescribed medication," said Noh. "It came to my attention that people seem to equate mentally ill people with criminals."

But really, he says, people ought to see mental illness as an illness, just as they see any physical illness.

Jo In Sung pays Jang Jae Yeol, the mystery writer and radio disc jockey with some strange behavioral traits. He can't sleep in beds and certain colors cause extreme reactions. He becomes a popular novelist but has no control over his obsessions. So he consults psychiatrist Ji Hae Su, played by Gong Hyo Jin.

Ji Hae Su is not sure she really ought to be a psychiatrist, but she's actually good at her job. 

As this is a romantic comedy, the two are destined to fall in love but his odd behavior might conceivably get in the way. And it will certainly make things more interesting.

Two other dramas also recently dealt with the subject of mental health issues. In "Good Doctor," Joo Won played a doctor with autism spectrum disorder. He was a medical genius but had plenty of issues relating to people socially. This hurt him professionally and romantically, but by the end of the drama those around him had come to respect and admire his unique abilities.

To play the character, Joo Won visited the Center for Autism. He met a few people affected by the condition and said they defied his expectations.

I was surprised at how well they spoke," he said. "It was difficult to piece together what the general public understands, what I learned and what I needed to show in the drama."

He was impressed and the audience was impressed with his performance.

In "God's Gift - 14 Days," two of the characters were mentally disabled which at first caused other characters to look down on them. However those characters were instrumental in saving the life of Lee Bo Young's fictional daughter. By the end of the drama these characters had gained admiration and respect.

 "It's Okay, It's Love" will air on July 23rd in Korea SBS and in China on Youku and Tudou.

How do you think the "It's Okay, It's Love" will be received?

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