The Sky Claims Another Star

“It’s a little cold today, wear something warm on your way. ” A Shawol twitter user wrote.

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Jonghyun, a 27 year old member of one of South Korea’s boyband Shinee committed suicide. He was found unconscious in a rental apartment on Monday evening. He was taken to a hospital but was later pronounced dead. Investigators believed he died from inhaling toxic fumes after discovering coal briquettes burnt in a frying pan in his apartment.

Jong-hyun’s sister made an initial report to police after receiving a text message from the singer saying “Please let me go. Tell me I did well,” and “final farewell”.

Since the news came out there has been an outpour of love, support and condolences for him and his family, also highlighting the need for good mental health.

A friend of the idol posted a letter by Jonghyun online in which he talked about suffering from depression.

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An accomplished singer and dancer who was heavily involved in songwriting and production, he also launched a successful solo career in 2015. He was a sensitive and kind man who voiced his opinions fearlessly on LGBTQ rights, education policies, mental health etc.

His death did raise a few concerns:

Extreme pressure put on idols- Idols are expected to be perfect from meeting society’s tough beauty standards to being the best in whatever they do. A place where serving the group takes precedence over everything else. But is being the best worth it if it comes at the cost of your mental health?

Hate comments or cyber bullying also has severe lasting psychological effects causing a person to be depressed, low self esteem, stress and affecting their health.

Managements in the past have been accused of shying away from training artists who are depressed or voice their depression as it affects the sales. So,the idols are left to suffer in silence.

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Taboo around mental illness- 1 in 4 Koreans suffer from mental illness but mental health is suffering in Korea. It has the developed world’s second highest suicide rate and the highest suicide rate among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries. The Ministry of Health and Welfare’s survey of 5,102 adults showed that about 25 percent of the respondents had suffered mental disorders, such as depression, schizophrenia and alcohol addiction, at least once in their lives. About 12 percent had experienced psychiatric illnesses in the past year.

In an article in The Korean Herald Park Jong-ik, a professor of psychiatry at Kangwon National University said, “The atmosphere around mental health is not so good in terms of the perception about mental illness, government investment and budget allocation.”

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In the competitive and hardworking Korean society mental illness is seen a weakness or lack of faith which poses a threat to family’s reputation and effects a person’s employability. Therefore, people are reluctant to seek help as it may act as blotch on their perfect resumes, or family name. Companies don’t hire people with mental illness as they think that it will affect their performance.

Numerous research studies and data confirm that Korea is a nation suffering from stress issues. Last year, a study by the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs found that, of the 7,000 people surveyed, over 90 percent said that they were under some form of stress, while a quarter said that they were under high stress.

A study by Yonsei University Institute for Social Development released last year, which focused on the happiness level of children and young people, found that Korea’s youth were the least happy in the OECD.

Korean society doesn’t recognise mental illness as a illness therefore treating it becomes difficult. There are several factors that contribute to it like low trust society,  group greed, stigma around mental health, public image, strict social classes, alcoholism etc. For a detailed read on barriers to treating mental illness in Korea refer to this article. 

In a bid to raise awareness of mental health issues and suicide prevention, the government initiated the National Youth Healing Center under the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family in 2012. The service recruits youths with mental health issues, such as ADHD and depression, who are willing to participate in the treatment program for four months. This year the Ministry of Health and Welfare finished a yearlong suicide prevention campaign “Are you OK? Air kiss campaign” which included an array of celebrities. (The Korean Hearld)

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Though, they have a long way to go to see mental illness for what it is every step in the right direction- removing stigma attached to them and recognising the barriers and removing them helps. The government and the companies need to take initiative to create awareness.

A person isn’t defined by mental illness. It is not all they are. They are capable of so much more. 

On an individual level, we can all try to be there for people who are suffering- lending a listening ear, a helping hand or a shoulder to cry on, away from judgments, to not ignore them instead of recycling the same old tweets anytime somebody dies of depression to pretend to lend support.

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