‘Doctor Slump’ Finale Brings Closure + Fights Stigma and Encourages The Importance of Mental Health

doctor slump ending
doctor slump ending
Credit: JTBC

Fans have been reveling in their emotions over the weekend as the finale of Doctor Slump really tugged at our heartstrings and was met with a variety of thoughts from viewers across the globe. Episode 16 was more than just an episode that provided closure but also reminded viewers to relish in self-care and to remember the important lessons each of the characters provided us in the end.

The hit Korean drama series that aired on January 27th of this year and officially finished on March 17th remained in the Top Watch list for quite some time on Netflix and was a global phenomenon for K-Drama fans. Of course, the drama kept us on our toes after Jeong Woo (played by Park Hyung Sik) proposed to Ha Neul (Park Shin Hye) at the end of episode 15 but Ha Neul is soon suddenly conflicted with her career opportunity to go abroad. While the dinner scene left us suspenseful because it would determine whether Ha Neul is going to respond to Jeong Woo’s proposal or drop another bombshell on us, I enjoyed that her journey of self-healing didn’t come without conflicting emotions and irrational decisions. It forced her hand often and I loved that the drama gave power to Ha Neul and portrayed her as a character with her own desires and goals to accomplish from start to finish.

In episode 1, Ha Neul was merely a woman experiencing burnout and fatigue but it was much deeper than that. Her therapist opened her eyes to the importance of self-care and how crucial her perspective is. She is in control of these decisions and has the ability to fight her way out of her slump through healing. In the end, she is successfully discharged from her therapist and it reflects many real-life situations while also breaking many stigmas looming in Korea regarding mental health treatment and therapy. I believe Ha Neul’s ability to start therapy, return to therapy, and leave the door open to come back to it when needed is an act of self-love in itself and highlights her realistic healthy growth.

However, Haneul’s journey wasn’t the only one met with closure. The drama did an excellent job of juggling stories and keeping tabs with each character’s walk of life. Haneul’s uncle is seen dilgently working at her Dad’s factory while showing a change of heart. Bada shows persistence in his life work and found himself dedicated to his talents more than before, cooking away on a Friday night. He understands the importance of effort, despite Haneul doubting the consistency. Perhaps Bada will also need to be aware of burnout too! Fans already expressed how they felt about all the individualized character endings on Twitter and still crave the warmth of the drama.

However, what made the ending so satisfying is that it highlights how everyone went through closure, big or small, and at various ages and points of their life. It didn’t all happen overnight or at the same time either. The story shows some still having their journey. What’s more pleasant to see are the characters who have learned to become even more supportive, to others and themselves, like Haneul’s mom and friend Hong Ran.

Haneul’s Mother has pride in her daughter and isn’t fazed by petty ahjumma gossip. Hong Ran, despite being a support character, faces a challenge head on that most K-Drama viewers are troubled by – love. We K-Drama fans watch K-Dramas to satisfy a lot of under-the-surface emotions, issues, and thoughts we have with love. Although Haneul’s main story was one of romance too, I think viewers can feel satisfied to see Hong Ran with someone who cares for her and that the idea of timing and patience are highlighted through her love story. It takes time to love ourselves fully and to find someone who can do the same.

Throughout the drama, mental health played an important role in steering the story. So, how could we not briefly interview an expert and ask questions about the story line from the perspective of a professional? You may know her as Noona’s Noonchi, aka Jeanie Y. Chang, who is a Korean American licensed therapist, speaker and author (and a dear friend!). Jeanie took the time to dive deeper into the story line and share some thoughts with us outside of her usual platforms that she uses to spread the importance of mental health through K-Dramas.

What did you think of the Finale for Doctor Slump? Did it meet your expectations or was there something missing when it came to closure?

Jeanie: “The finale – episode 16 – was amazing and it did meet my expectations as well as show closure, particularly with Nam Haneul. I especially liked how Nam Haneul was officially discharged from her psychiatrist – which is nice for viewers to see and of course is a process in real life. I also liked seeing her stop taking medication to symbolize her progress. Although, in my expert opinion, she didn’t need medication in the first place. Still – it’s important to me that we got to see her personal and professional growth – how she navigated depression due to burnout and she found renewed passion in her work.”

What can you say about the message of the story from a mental health perspective? Also do you want a season 2 just like our fans or do you feel it ended on a good note?

Jeanie: “No season 2 is ever necessary for a K-Drama. From a mental health perspective, Doctor Slump is as good as it gets – addressing mental health (not mental illness which isn’t the same thing). It talks about burnout which is such a prevalent issue (not just in Korea) through Nam Haneul sending a message that self-care must be taken seriously for sustainability. Regardless of how much you love your job, mental health hygiene (just like physical hygiene) is essential. Also, in episode 16, we see Nam Ha Neul share with confidence her feelings and thoughts which she wasn’t able to do before. This is because she’s feeling stronger emotionally, psychologically and socially thanks to taking time to care for herself so that she’s able to think more clearly and gain the courage and strength to speak up. All of this attributes to taking care of your mental health. Again – mental health hygiene should be part of your everyday habit.”

“Also, through Yeo Jeong Woo’s story – we see how important it was for his own healing to have a family – a support system – which I emphasize is critical to one’s healing journey. Jeong woo found it in Haneul and her family. Another takeaway is that your own family may not be the best support system for you and can come from other people / groups. As we tend to see in our society – Korea and USA – when one is ‘cancelled’ – it can have devastating ramifications if one doesn’t have someone who has their back.”

When asked about her final thoughts, Jeanie shared this with us.

Jeanie: “Overall, I loved how Doctor Slump showed mental health up front and center and it wasn’t a side story. It was the defining element surrounding the female protagonist’s conflict and filtered its way through her love interest and family. Meaning, we didn’t see a stigma as we normally have seen. It is really important to normalize mental health conditions that arise due to real life challenging situations. The more we see this represented in K-Dramas, the more we break the stigma surrounding mental health which will help benefit our society.”

For me, episode 16 really answered many lingering questions and closed many doors to the story. Although, Haneul’s sudden chance to go abroad was not put into fruition and other circumstances got in the way, she found happiness in this result and seems delighted to stay and learn that Jeong Woo would’ve remained supportive in her power to decide. Even visually, the final episode portrayed many subtle ideas of a successful journey’s end, such as the sun setting outside Haneul’s window more elegantly than before when she takes her medicine one last time and the sun rising over the horizon behind the mountainous beach landscape as she embarks on a new chapter.

Overall, according to our fans on Instagram and Twitter, fans were more than satisfied with the ending – with some even demanding a season two. However, a season two may simply complicate things and strip away the fundamental idea that growth is continuous and open-ended. The ending isn’t too ambiguous and shows that there were many things in Haneul’s life that are beautiful in simplicity and were overlooked before. I love that one last time, Jeong Woo proposes and Haneul confidently replies in her own charming silly way. Thus bringing their story to an end but not bypassing the main message. Both the main characters left us saying “I could be happy today but sad tomorrow, but it is okay. We have the strength to endure the misfortunes and sadness. That’s enough.”

What did you think of Doctor Slump’s finale? Leave a comment down below and don’t forget to practice self-care in your everyday life.

>> ‘Doctor Slump’ Becomes Third Most-Watched Non-English Series on Netflix

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