The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson is a novel set in North Korea, providing a harrowing and poignant portrayal of life under the oppressive regime. The story follows the life of Jun Do, a young man who grew up in an orphanage and later becomes a government operative, navigating the complexities of the country’s political and social hierarchies.

Throughout the novel, Johnson offers a vivid portrayal of the psychological toll that living in such a society can have on individuals. Through the characters’ struggles, he highlights the importance of mental health and the impact that living in a repressive regime can have on it.

Here are seven mental health lessons that can be learned from The Orphan Master’s Son:

  1. Trauma can have long-lasting effects on mental health: Jun Do’s experiences growing up in an orphanage and later working for the government leave him with deep-seated emotional scars that impact his mental health throughout the book.
  2. Repression can lead to psychological distress: The pervasive surveillance and repression in North Korea lead to widespread paranoia and anxiety among the populace, as well as a sense of isolation and hopelessness.
  3. Belonging is crucial for mental well-being: Jun Do’s struggle to find a sense of belonging in his society leads to feelings of loneliness and disconnection, highlighting the importance of social connections for mental health.
  4. Human connection can provide a lifeline in difficult times: Despite the difficulties of living in North Korea, Jun Do finds solace in his relationships with others, highlighting the importance of human connection in maintaining mental health.
  5. Ideology can be harmful to mental health: The state’s rigid ideology creates a sense of cognitive dissonance for many characters in the book, leading to feelings of confusion and distress.
  6. Coping mechanisms can be both helpful and harmful: The characters in the book use a range of coping mechanisms to deal with their difficult circumstances, some of which are helpful and others that lead to further distress.
  7. Recovery from trauma is possible with the right support: While the characters in the book face immense challenges, they also demonstrate resilience and the ability to recover from trauma with the help of others.