Why The 2nd Anniversary Of K-Pop Star Jonghyun's Death Makes Kindness & Respect More Important Than Ever

Photo: Soompi
What The Suicides Of Kpop's Jonghyun, Sulli & Goo Hara Teach Us About Mental Health & Kindness
Entertainment And News, Self

Kim Jonghyun. Sulli. Goo Hara.

In less than two years, these three K-pop stars lost their individual battles with depression.

As a devoted fan, their tragic deaths by suicide have given the month of December even greater importance as a time to remember just how critical it is that each of us show kindness to one another.

Once December starts, the joy of Christmas preparations sets in. Cheer and joy fill the air, especially once radio stations begin blasting Christmas music.

I always loved Christmas growing up. It was my favorite time of year. But ever since December 18, 2017, the holidays haven’t really been the same for me.

On that day 2 years ago, K-pop star Kim Jonghyun of the group SHINee, better known as Jonghyun, passed away, taking his own life at the age of 27.

RELATED: Why It's Totally Valid To Grieve The Death Of A Celebrity

And as one of his biggest fans, his death changed December for me.

I remember waking up with an awful feeling before getting the news from several friends. I remember crying for a week straight. And I remember a dark cloud following me everywhere as I slowly lost my Christmas spirit.

Healing took some time.

In the first few months, I talked to other fans — "Shawols" as we are called (short for "SHINee World") — whom I never thought to speak with before on Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook.

We comforted each other by talking about the good and fun memories and making jokes about how Jonghyun is the only angel in heaven who plays the kazoo.

I also impulsively bought everything Jonghyun-related, from albums to merchandise. I listened to his songs — both happy and sad — on repeat. I wrote letters to him in a diary. I listened to a podcast called "Shawol Blue Night," created by a fellow Shawol who wanted to help others heal.

As I surrounded myself with his memory, I began to think of him fondly rather than sadly.

It took a lot of work and time. And, even though I still miss him right now, I believe I’m okay.

But, this year alone, close to December once again, K-pop fans lost two more stars far too soon.

On October 14, 2019, Sulli from f(x) died at the age of 25. And just over one month later, on November 24, Goo Hara from KARA passed away at just 28.

Once again, it feels like the Christmas spirit has left me.

F(x) and KARA were among the first K-pop groups I listened to along with SHINee back when I became a fan in 2011.

It feels strange — they were such a pivotal part of my life, and now they’re gone.

No wonder people call depression the silent killer. It can be ever-present even in people who look the happiest.

Just days before his death, Jonghyun had held his last concert where he smiled and laughed and sang for fans. He even announced a new album he was working on, one that I eagerly awaited.

Sulli always appeared to be strong, fighting back against online bullies and critics. I'd admired her for her bravery and tenacity.

And Hara was actively working as well in Japan and was planning a comeback tour.

In many Asian countries — including South Korea, which has one of the highest suicide rates in the world — dealing with mental health issues and illnesses comes with a bit of a stigma.

Growing up Asian and Filipino, I know firsthand that it's a taboo topic — one that's not talked about nor acknowledged in most public spaces, though that's slowly changing. No one talks about depression or therapy if they can help it.

People who are open about struggles with depression are judged for not being strong enough to fight back. They're told that everything you feel is “all in your head."

Admitting your suicidal thoughts means being viewed as a coward. Sympathy for your plight is rare.

This is the most dangerous response to depression and mental illness.

Most, though not all, people who die by suicide exhibit warning signs. They must be taken seriously, as knowing what to look for saves lives.

Photo credit: Anxiety and Depression Association of America

TRENDING NOW on YourTango

RELATED: The Beautiful Way Chester Bennington’s Wife Talinda Is Reaching Out To Linkin Park Fans Struggling With Depression & Suicidal Thoughts To #MakeChesterProud

To outside eyes, K-pop looks glamorous. There are bright and colorful outfits. Synchronized dances. Catchy lyrics. Heavenly voices.

But, as any veteran K-pop fan knows, and as I discovered myself fairly quickly, there is also tremendous pressure to be perfect. To be the best. To not upset the fans. To sacrifice everything if you really want to make it.

That pressure can lead to deteriorating mental health.

Jonghyun, Sulli and Hara were victims of not only that pressure, but also of the actions of the people around them.

Jonghyun was always open about his depression, writing songs about it and speaking about it during his radio show, Blue Night.

It's been reported that he was actively seeking therapy, but in his farewell letter, he revealed that his doctor told him his depression was simply due to his personality.

Sulli was a victim of cyberbullies and critics. She was criticized for everything, from what she wore and who she decided to date.

She joined a Korean variety show called “The Night of Hate Comments,” where celebrities would read their hate tweets and discuss them with each other, hoping to bring awareness to the damaging effects of cyberbullying. The show was cancelled after her death, as many believed it contributed to her depression.

And Goo Hara, who first tried to end her life earlier this year, was also a victim of cyberbullying and revenge porn committed by her ex-boyfriend. Since she and Sulli were friends, she took Sulli’s death especially hard.

RELATED: The Tragic Death Of Former K-Pop Superstar Sulli Has People Questioning The High Price Of Fame

I’m not writing this because I want to spearhead some kind of mental health revolution within K-pop and the entertainment industry, or in general.

There are plenty of articles about that, already.

I’m writing this because I miss Jonghyun. I miss Sulli. And I miss Hara.

I’m writing this because I wish the things that happened hadn't.

I wish the cyberbullies didn’t make Sulli feel so hated and alone.

I wish Hara’s ex-boyfriend had more respect for her privacy and hasn't abused her trust.

I wish Jonghyun’s doctor had taken him seriously.

I wish that people had been kinder. I wish they'd had more empathy. I wish that, in some way, Jonghyun, Sulli, and Hara had felt the love of their loyal fans, who will continue to remember them in the years to come.

K-pop fan or not, I encourage you to not only look at celebrities but to pay close attention to your family, your friends and your acquaintances.

They are all under some kind of pressure. They all have things to deal with. They are all susceptible to the silent killer — even if they’re not saying anything, even if they look healthy, and even if they smile and laugh.

Be kind to them.

Christmas is coming and, for me and many K-pop fans like me, it’s not just a time of celebration and gift-giving. It’s a time for remembering the stars who left us, whose short but fruitful lives remind us to be kind to each other and to live to the best of our abilities.

I always end articles like this with a quote from Jonghyun, spoken during an episode of Blue Night after the Sewol Ferry tragedy in South Korea that claimed the lives of 304 people, most of them high school students on a field trip.

"As time goes on, memories of things that have disappeared or the pain of loss can grow pale and faint. Those things happen if we just lend ourselves to time, but if we don't compromise with time and commit ourselves to remembering those people, I think the things that disappeared may never have disappeared after all ... And I hope that from now on, those who were left behind will hurt less and remember more. That's the way I hope they'll live."

We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.

Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to speak confidentially to a trained crisis worker.

RELATED: What My Father's Suicide Taught Me About Being The 'I' When Saying 'I Love You'

Sign Up for the YourTango Newsletter

Let's make this a regular thing!

Caithlin Pena is a writer and editor for YourTango who enjoys books, movies, and writing fictional short stories as a hobby.

Author
Editor