Unlike most K-dramas that portray the subject matter of mental health as a small part of a bigger plot, Daily Dose Of Sunshine is a show that is solely about this subject. Most certainly, we’ve been seeing autism and people on the spectrum represented in Korean media, almost as if it’s a trend. The Korean title of this show is 정신병동에도 아침이 와요, which literally translates to “Even in the mental ward, morning comes.” The show wants to create open-mindedness towards mental health awareness. The show clearly depicts the ignorance and prejudice people have against mental illnesses through emotionally charged stories. So, let’s get into all the mental illnesses the show covers and the lessons we learn from Daily Dose Of Sunshine.
Daily Dose Of Sunshine Episode 1 is intense, and a woman who has exhibitionist tendencies and bipolar disorder is admitted to the hospital. This happens to be Da-Eun’s first day in the psychiatric ward, which makes it an extra slippery day for her. In this episode, Dr. Hwang explains how a person with bipolar disorder has two states: manic and depressive. Oh Ri-Na was brought up in a very sheltered environment, where she never disobeyed anything her mother said. Through the episode, we understand that Oh Ri-Na never had the chance to do anything for herself, always doing exactly as she was told. But at the same time, from the outside, her life looked glittery and glamorous. Everyone around her was jealous and made it abundantly clear to her, which made her wonder if she was really as lucky as everyone made her out to be. Ri-Na did a complete 180 out of the blue and started showing symptoms of bipolar. In this state, Ri-Na got obsessed with a man she met at a bar, beginning to pretend that they were an actual couple. Even Da-Eun has trouble fathoming that a wealthy person like Ri-Na could go through such a thing, and Hwang educates her. He explains how psychiatry is for those whose mental strength has weakened. Ultimately, it’s Da-Eun who helps Ri-Na by listening to her story and understanding that it is her mother’s overbearing nature that has caused her to retreat into a shell.
Gaslighting And Social Phobia
Kim Sung-Sik used to be an office worker until his new boss began tormenting him for the smallest of things. The new boss would gaslight Sung-Sik into believing he’s completely worthless after making him suffer from insomnia and social anxiety. Things escalated so far that when Sung-Sik had to give an important presentation, he needed a break and asked to go to the washroom, infuriating the boss. Then, the boss wouldn’t let Sung-Sik in the restroom, making him obsessed with the restroom and withdrawing deeper into his shell. Sung-Sik’s suffering only worsened, and because of his mental stress, he would end up having kidney problems later on. Sung-Sik gave up and tried to end his life, but he felt like there was still some hope for him. His social phobia got worse by the day, and he felt anxious at work, as if everyone was observing him and talking about him behind his back. Fortunately, he ended up getting himself hospitalized at the right time. In Korean work culture, overworking yourself, making sure you leave work after your seniors, staying for work dinners, and other trivial things are hugely impactful on people. What Sung-Sik goes through isn’t new or unique, but a very common thing.
While Da-Eun’s best friend himself struggles with panic attacks, a new nurse in the department is also faced with a similar problem. Even as nurses and psychiatric professionals, everybody assumes that Seung-Jae is slacking off when he asks to go to the washroom too often or drinks hot tea instead of coffee, which takes too long to prepare, but it’s because those are necessary outlets for his panic attacks. To show people the feeling of a panic attack during a conference, Dr. Hwang asks everyone to pair up and conduct an experiment. Da-Eun chooses Seung-Jae on purpose because she realizes something is actually bothering him. The experiment that makes you feel like you’re suffocating because you’re blowing out of a straw with your ears closed is too much for Sung-Jae to handle, and he rushes to the washroom again. Seung-Jae is afraid he won’t be able to be a nurse if he admits his “problem,” but the whole endeavor makes him realize he needs treatment. Ultimately, he comes back at the end of the series, healthier and stronger, to take on his role as a nurse in the psychiatric ward.
Ha-Ram is a young girl who is looking for a job but ends up getting scammed by voice-phishing agents. It’s not as if she wasn’t poor already, but having no job and now no money led to her giving up completely and trying to commit suicide. She was caught and brought to safety, with the government paying for her treatment, too. Ha-Ram starts to believe that Da-Eun is the one who has stolen her money and harasses her for some time in the hospital. Da-Eun has a hard time dealing with it and even snaps at her, but she hears a mouthful from the head nurse, who explains how delusions must not be denied as it can only make them feel more real for the person who is having them. Simply telling Da-Eun what she went through helps Ha-Ram feel better. In the end, she asks Da-Eun to take her to the bank to help her start saving her money again.
Kim Seo-Wan suffers from delusions because of the stress of being successful. Again, in his case, it is not his family that pressurizes him to “do well” or become a civil servant; it is Seo-Wan himself who has fallen prey to societal pressures. After struggling for many years, he decided to take some time off and try to play some video games, which sucked him in. Seo-Wan’s story is the most unfortunate because, instead of doing better, he ends up taking his life by jumping off the building of his academy. It’s not as if Seo-Wan didn’t get better at the hospital; he did, but seeing everyone around him worried that he might crawl back into his shell, he decides the world is better off without him. Of course, this is not nearly the truth, but it’s too late to help him.
After learning that her daughter is being bullied at school, a working mother named Ju-Yeong ends up extremely stressed being caught in between the two things. Out of the blue, she forgets that her daughter’s been hurt by some kids and ends up speaking to one of the mothers as if nothing had happened. This leads her to the hospital for her own treatment, after having visited there to make sure her daughter will be fine. Ju-Yeong is suffering from pseudodementia because she’s too stressed from all the work she’s doing. We see parallels between her and the senior nurse as they both struggle silently while trying to be perfect mothers. It’s not uncommon for women to be considered terrible mothers because they’re trying to put food on the table, and both of these women realize that they need to cut themselves some slack after seeing each other.
Da-Eun can’t handle the death of her favorite patient, Seo-Wan, and hunkers down after trying to overwork herself to be distracted. When Da-Eun gives herself time to feel her feelings, she ends up becoming too sad and can’t leave her bed for days. She starts to feel lethargic and doesn’t care about food or anything, except for staying in bed all day. One fine day, Da-Eun ends up trying to take her own life, feeling like giving up on everything. This is when she’s admitted for her sickness by her mother involuntarily. Da-Eun doesn’t want to admit how sick she is until she is reminded by her doctor that she tried to walk into moving traffic in front of her mother. Da-Eun’s struggle doesn’t end with her sickness, though, because once she begins to recover, she starts to fear that no one would want a mentally ill nurse to aid them. The rest of the show pushes the idea that mental illness must be treated the same as any other physical sickness. Just as someone who is still taking medication for a common cold and working while recovering can do the same with no bias, Da-Eun’s work is what makes her happy; it’s what is most exciting to her and makes her want to wake up every day. Being a nurse means the world to her, and taking that away from her would make her depressed again.
Daily Dose Of Sunshine doesn’t go deep into schizophrenia but rather uses it as an illness to represent the criminalization of patients and the prejudices against people with schizophrenia. The head nurse has a young sister, Ae-Sin, who suffers from schizophrenia, and she admits her to her own hospital. The head nurse, Hyo-Jin, is moving houses, and when the residents find out that she has a sister with a severe mental illness, they start to turn their backs on her. They say she needs special permission from all the mothers to allow her to move in. The head nurse suffers a lot because of the way the neighbors and mothers treat her, telling her that they have young kids and kids giving exams, so there can’t be any commotion. Ultimately, she brings Ae-Sin, who takes medication for her condition, to the front door of the leader of the women’s group and shows her that her sister is just as “normal” as she is. To her surprise, Ae-Sin speaks up, too, asking the woman to allow her sister to live in the building. She talks about how she’ll never step outside the house, go to the park, or any public place where she could be considered a nuisance, bringing tears to Hyo-Jin’s eyes.
The show covers these major mental illnesses with decent care. In recent years, there have been many positive ways in which the Korean entertainment industry has been representing mental illnesses, and we hope it continues to do so with shows like Daily Dose Of Sunshine.