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Celebrity suicides remind us no one is safe from depression

DECEMBER 20 — Shinee’s Jonghyun passed away from suicide on Monday. With a successful solo career in addition to his fame with Shinee, he was a star that still shone so brightly in a vast crowd of entertainers.

Until that light was dimmed by his own hand.

When my favourite celebrities die of old age or after battling with terminal illness, I shed a tear or two. That’s a given. But I wept copiously for Jonghyun. Suicides are tragedies; suicides driven by depression most certainly are.

Jonghyun has long been open about his struggles with his depression, though he would not directly refer to it thus. Instead, he called it his “depressive emotions’ and blamed his own weakness of character.

His suicide note is hard to read. It reads of pain, of despair, self-blame, self-loathing as well as a cry for help.

“How could you ask me to still look for reasons behind my pain? I told you multiple times why I’m suffering. Do I need more reasons to be in pain? More dramatic details in my stories? More stories even?”

He said the above before he went for treatment but his doctor apparently insinuated that his “personality” was the cause of his inability to beat depression.

Jonghyun isn’t a rarity. Nearly 40 people commit suicide a day in South Korea, according to the Berkeley Political Review. In 2016, the country spent US$7 million (RM28.5 million) on mental health, which contrasts sharply with the US$130 million Japan spends a year to try and stem its own suicide epidemic.

Depression doesn’t differentiate — it takes the rich and poor, of all races and ages. While mental health awareness is becoming increasingly advocated, the reality is that even Malaysia is not fully equipped to treat mental health issues on the same level that it does physical ones.

It’s hard for me to read comments on Jonghyun’s choice — asking why someone so young, so rich, so good-looking could not be happy? Why could he not just be grateful? Count his blessings? But those are words from people who do not actually know what depression is like.

The thing about depression is that it seals you off from the good feelings and inundates you with the bad. You literally cannot feel the love shown to you by others, because the depression makes it almost impossible to get through to you. That no amount of willpower or inner strength can help you. No prayer, no meditation, no positive thoughts can aid you. You might as well be shrouded in an invisible, near-impregnable wall of ice.

Kim Jong-hyun, lead singer of South Korean boy band Shinee, was said to have been battling depression. — Reuters pic
Kim Jong-hyun, lead singer of South Korean boy band Shinee, was said to have been battling depression. — Reuters pic

Even someone as privileged as Jonghyun suffered from being able to cope, likely because he was unlucky enough to have a terrible therapist and mediocre options in his home country.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please seek help. Need someone to talk to? Call the Befrienders at 603-79568145 or get some free online counselling from 7cups.com. For treatment options, check the listings at the Malaysian Mental Health Association’s website.

Understand that suicide is a permanent solution to a problem that isn’t forever, not if you seek help for it. Ending the pain shouldn’t mean ending your life. Be kind to yourself, and be kind to those battling their own inner darkness.

May Jonghyun’s death at the very least be a wake-up call for not just South Korea, but people who do not yet understand that depression is real and that it kills.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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