On December 18, 2017, Kim Jonghyun, lead singer of the Korean boy band SHINee, was found dead of suicide in Seoul. He was 27.
At the time, I was barely 5 months older than him. And I was devastated. Jonghyun (also known to fans as Blingbling or Jjong) was a picture of the perfect K-Pop idol. He stayed out of trouble. He was always smiling. But for me, he was the reason I fell in love with K-Pop.
As I, like many fans, tried to figure out why this happened, I found that his suicide note painted a telling story of his reason – the crushing depression he was going through. He also spoke of his depression in his lyrics and interviews. But was there ever any relief available from this?
According to his suicide note, Jjong’s doctor blamed his personality for his depression. As I write this sitting in my chair in America, I know this to be a huge no-no, and a red flag that you need a different doctor. The problem is, in South Korea, this is a normal attitude. Mental illness is highly stigmatized, if it’s recognized at all. So unsurprisingly, Korea has the second-highest suicide rate in the world.
The negativity attached to mental illness isn’t limited to South Korea. I’ve had memorable experiences with doctors blaming me for my depression. And worse, some professionals feel like you’re incapable of making your own decisions. If you go against what they believe is best for you, they’ll victimize you further.
So what can we, the victims of mental illness, do?
Talk to someone.
If you can, talk to a trusted friend or family member about how you’re feeling. You can even write down your feelings in a journal or on social media. It’s important to have a voice, and to use it.
Seek professional help.
And keep seeking help. Stick with your treatment plan. If you don’t believe that particular person respects you and is trying to help you, keep looking until you find one that does. I know that this is hard. I know. It may be one of the hardest things you ever do. But this step is necessary to get better. And things can get better.