On Dec 18, SHINee’s Kim Jonghyun, 27, committed suicide after a long battle with mental illness. In a letter written to his close friend, he recounted his attempts to get help. and how his visits to psychiatrists always ended with them blaming his personality. “I thought, ‘Damn being a doctor is easy’”, he wrote. His heartbreaking confession has shed light on the pressures faced by entertainers and people are now calling for change in an industry that prioritises perfection in its artistes over happiness and mental well-being, especially with reports earlier this year of idols such as Choa from AOA and JinE from Oh My Girl quitting their agencies due to mental health issues.
Jung Eunji, main vocalist of girl group Apink, revealed that her colleagues could relate to Jonghyun’s words, and that she feared what this could mean for the future: “Seeing my colleagues who say they identify with the feeling of depression and that emotion gnawing away at them, I was scared as I thought, 'What if?' I hope that the idol and entertainment industry will grow to encourage physical and mental health so that something like this doesn’t happen again.”
Super Junior member Leeteuk, who’s from Jonghyun’s agency SM Entertainment, published a lengthy IG post in which he explained his own struggles with depression: “I also experienced severe depression, a difficult time where I thought every day that dying would be better than being alive and breathing.” He also urged for the implementation of measures to help those in need: “As someone who has been in a similar situation...it would’ve been better if there had been some solution that would have provided even a small way out.”
Korean singer Sophiya, who was the runner-up on reality show Birth of a Great Star 2, gave insight into what it takes to be a K-pop star: “There is so much pressure to be perfect here in Korea. Double that if you’re a celebrity. Double that again if you’re a member of one of the biggest idol groups in the country.” She also expressed frustration at K-pop’s hush-hush culture: “Mental illness is still very taboo, so seeking help is out of the question (for idols) and most definitely not to be talked about...these kids have to deal with this for years.”
Hongkong singer-actress Sammi Cheng, who also battled depression for years, wrote a heartfelt post on Instagram, accompanied by a picture of Jonghyun. She lamented that the illusion of what it means to “live well” is often based on materialistic things like celebrity and beauty, while mental health is always overlooked. She also encouraged everyone to pay more attention to those around them and observe their emotional needs and changes.
But celebs aren't the only ones speaking out about this issue. A SHINee fan from Costa Rica named Leslie Quinde started a petition on change.org called ‘Mental Health Support for Artists in the Entertainment Industry’. The petition will supposedly be sent to the South Korean Government as well as entertainment agencies, and has the following description: “We want to ask all entertainment agencies to make a plan or program to monitor mental health in their employees not for the company's interests, but for their artists' well-being and a back up for the employees that the program won't be used against them and harm their careers but to help them get back on their feet.”
The petition currently has over 400,000 signatures.