Kim Jonghyun passed away today. I’m sure a lot of people don’t know who this is, but I’m sure a lot of you do. Many of you have probably come to learn his name in the last 24 hours. I can’t pretend to know him. I can’t even pretend to have been his fan. I like K-pop, and I’ve enjoyed watching his group, SHINee, in the past. “His group.” Perhaps, I should instead have instead typed, “what was once his group.” I wonder how, in instances such as these, people go on to talk about those who have died in the past tense so quickly. Yes, they’re gone, but has this really sunk in for you already? I have a harder time keeping up.
From what anyone can garner from the news, this is an apparent suicide, though it would be irresponsible of me not to note that this is still under police investigation. Though, when you find a note written in pain and anguish, anger and confusion, it doesn’t seem like a stretch to connect this to a story of self-harm. Jonghyun wrote in his final note to family, friends and fans, “I am broken from inside. The depression that gnawed on me slowly has finally engulfed me entirely. [I] couldn’t defeat it anymore.”
For many, K-pop is a home. It is a community where people who might not feel like they belong anywhere else can be a part of a world that is painted with glamour and perfection that covers a more sinister reality lying just under the surface. It is an escape from reality–one that I’ve been a part of for the better part of a decade now–but for idols in South Korea (they aren’t just celebrities, singers or entertainers but, yes, idols), the K-pop industry is their reality…and it isn’t always a friendly one. Enormous amounts of pressure and stress, hundreds of thousands of people watching your every move, analyzing and criticizing how you live, how you breathe…waiting and hoping that you will fail. These are just a few of the things celebrities of all cultures put up with on a daily basis. This is their reality.
Is the state of the Korean–or the world’s–entertainment industry entirely to blame? When something unsavory occurs, our first instinct as people is to find who is to blame; to find whose fault it is. However, all that can be said is that K-pop is just a small facet of the underlying culture of South Korea, and South Korea is a culture that does not look upon mental illness and struggles kindly. But can we really say there is any country that doesn’t, in one way or another, do the same? Even in the United States, where we often pride ourselves on freedom and enlightenment, do we find a society that, at worst, condemns mental illness and, at best, ignores it. In some more unpleasant societies of the world, mental illness is a death sentence. For some, that death sentence is carried out by themselves.
This can only bring us to think about what connects us as completely different cultures to being so misinformed about mental health…to be scared to talk about it. Humans are flawed creatures. This is a fact of existence that most of us have had to come to terms with no matter how much we don’t want to. Then, why are we so scared of what makes us so inherently human? Why are we so scared to admit that we’re scared, that we’re unhappy, or that our lives might not be as perfect as they seem? Sometimes people are depressed. You probably have known someone who has been. You probably know someone who is right now. Maybe that person is you.
In the end, there are more questions than answers.
In South Korea, it is estimated that 40 people commit suicide every day. In the United States, that number jumps to about 117. If only individuals suffering like Jonghyun could hear the words he so longed to hear. “You did well.” If only, they could hear, “I understand,” and “I believe you.” “You’re not alone.”
잘했어요, 종현. Rest in peace.
If you are suffering from depression, or know someone who is, please seek out help. This might be a family member, a friend or someone you otherwise know and trust. Reach out to a mental health professional, if you have the means. Don’t stop at one person. Don’t let anyone downplay or dismiss your struggles. The power is in your hands to change your life for the better. Fight for you.