Dental Student’s Father Bemoans Privacy Laws

It was found that Jiwon Lee, a 29-year-old dental student at Columbia University, had suffered from depression, which made her commit suicide. (Photo via Korea Daily)

It was found that Jiwon Lee, a 29-year-old dental student at Columbia University, had suffered from depression, which led her to commit suicide. (Photo via Korea Daily)

Jiwon Lee, a 29-year-old Korean-American student at the College of Dental Medicine at Columbia University, was found in the Hudson River 32 days after she went missing on April 1. It was revealed that she had suffered from depression even though she was a child from a successful immigrant family and had been president of the American Student Dental Association. The reason for her death leap shocked the Korean community in New York, which had not been concerned about mental health.

Korea Daily conducted a phone interview with her father, Sodeok Lee.

He said that he has been beating his chest in grief. “If I had known about her suffering, I would have made her get medical treatment at an early stage,” he sighed.

He agreed to give an interview because he didn’t want this to happen again [to others]. The day she disappeared, April 1, was Sodeok’s birthday. “I received a text message from Jiwon around 6 p.m., saying ‘Happy Birthday, Dad.’ That was the last time,” he said.

Jiwon was the pride and joy of her parents as she had been mature and intelligent ever since her childhood.

She was popular among friends for her leadership. After graduating in journalism and history from the University of Michigan, Jiwon came to New York with the dream of becoming a news anchor. She worked at world-famous media outlets like NBC New York and NPR.

But all of a sudden, she decided to go to dental school and her father didn’t stop her since she was a daughter who did what she wanted once she settled on a path. “She was no different a year after entering university,” Sodeok said.

He assumed that she got the blues during her sophomore year and said he didn’t take her words seriously. “She often said ‘it is not right for me’ or ‘I feel depressed’ when she started practicing in a laboratory,” he said.

There were medicine packets for depression from 2011 at Jiwon’s empty apartment.

Later, he found out that three or four of her friends had already known about her depression and that she took medication for it. He lamented that he realized this after she committed suicide.

During the interview, Sodeok insisted that privacy laws be revised so that parents can learn if their children have been prescribed psychoactive drugs for conditions such as depression. The policy that protects patients’ privacy caused Jiwon’s death as a result.

“Nobody knew that she had long been prescribed antidepressants from a doctor at the school, not even her parents or professors. If we had realized it in advance, we could have done something to make her live on. I am so bitter and resentful that we had no way to know it,” he cried.

The sudden death of his daughter hit the father, who has lived only for his children, like a bolt from the blue. Her calendar had a hectic schedule until May, which made her death difficult to understand.

“She was a girl of great self-respect. [Editor’s note: He said she had written, some time before her death, that she could not resign as president of the student association despite the fact that she no longer wanted to live, so she continued in that position through the end of her term, some weeks before she disappeared.] She probably thought that her depression could not be cured at all,” he explained.

There was a silence over the telephone and no need to ask how devastated he felt.

“If the medication for depression doesn’t work, a patient stands a chance of becoming suicidal in some cases. I just hope that there will never be more victims like my daughter, Jiwon,” he said.

Meanwhile, Jiwon’s mother will participate in a graduation ceremony on May 21 to receive her diploma as her proxy, because Jiwon passed the final exam for graduation.


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