The State of Mental Health in the K-Pop Industry 
Mon, April 19, 2021

The State of Mental Health in the K-Pop Industry 

Recent deaths from high-profile names in K-Pop and the world of K-Drama have only made the more private pain of the industry known to the world, but what’s really going on behind the scenes / Photo by: Korea.net via Wikimedia Commons

 

K-Pop idols are finally breaking out of South Korea to achieve recognition outside of it. And as the industry opens up more and more to the world, so does concern from their Western fans seep into the heavily patriarchal society, as well as its dismissive attitude towards suicide. 

Recent deaths from high-profile names in K-Pop and the world of K-Drama have only made the more private pain of the industry known to the world, but what’s really going on behind the scenes? 

The Numbers 

According to a report by the Voice of America, a US multimedia agency, the state of the South Korean society about sensitive issues such as suicide is something that arguably needs some work. A study from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that “South Korea was the second highest in the number of suicides among member nations.” 

They have been in the second spot since 2007, except for 2010 and 2011. Yang Doo-seok, adjunct professor at the Graduate School of Social Policy at Gachon University, said that South Korea’s problem with suicide could be stemming from traditionally Korean behaviors towards success, in that success is damn near everything. 

It’s not very accurate to solely base something on one factor, and this is agreed upon by psychologist Mitch Prinstein, a distinguished professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of North Carolina. 

A study from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that “South Korea was the second highest in the number of suicides among member nations” / Photo by: Alexander Alexeev via 123RF

 

He told Voice of America, “Some people become suicidal after a long period, slowly becoming more feeling more trapped and feeling more depressed. But other people might make this decision in a fairly impulsive way after experiencing a pretty severe stressor.” 

Yang maintains that success still has something to do with it, though it is not the sole factor. What he means to say here is that the goal of succeeding is one that is both used and abused by both the stars themselves and the fans around them, who would often use the success of an idol as a backdrop for attack. K-Pop stars put themselves under harsh media scrutiny that doesn’t always result in fair treatment, and it’s one other reason that some K-Pop stars have been pushed to take their lives due to very intense, very public hate. 

In general, the OECD reports that 25.8 out of 100,000 have committed suicide in 2016, and although it’s technically fallen from 1985, the numbers climbed up again in 2010, wit 33.8 out of 100,000. 

The K-Pop Connection 

Yang is right in assuming, though, that by and large, suicide in South Korea is caused by numerous “environmental, social, and economic reasons,” but the problem with the Korean public is that they just don’t see the issue of suicide as a societal one. 

If people are going to continually act like K-Pop idols are almost like public property, there needs to be serious societal changes in the way people treat them, and it should be for the better. 

In a report by entertainment news website Variety, some of the factors that tip idols to their breaking points is the industry’s rigorous and deeply flawed idea that entertainers should keep up a pristine public image. Add that to the fact that idols tend to start very young, training to dance and sing more than they are given time to just be young. 

In response to this, the Korea Creative Content Agency started a support system in 2011 for idols or other personalities in the industry who might need some help. In 2011, they only had 40 clients; last year, they had 164. 

The pressure for that spotless public image is harsher on the women in the industry. South Korean society is deeply patriarchal, and one won’t need to look much further than K-Pop to see the difference, especially after the deaths of 25-year-old Choi Jin-ri, and 28-year-old Goo Hara. 

Choi Jin-ri, also known as Sulli, who was nothing but a bright spot of hope in the industry, got consistent hate for voicing out her opinions about feminism and freely living the life she wants. She endured so much online hate for doing so. A fellow member of her group f(x), Amber Liu, talked about this unrelenting hate that Sulli got for being open about issues like mental health. 

“When [people] hear you’re getting help they’re like, ‘What? Why are you getting help? That’s weird.’ And the stigma against mental health is just so strong,” Amber said. 

Amber probably knew what kinds of things Sulli had to endure over the years, having to live her life under the intense scrutiny of the public, but it seems like not all hope is lost for her and every other idol who might feel the same kind of pressure in the public spotlight. 

It’s a good thing, then, that South Korean president Moon Jae-in has begun a petition to call for “stronger punishments for abusive online comments.” It remains to be seen how effective this petition would be but according to British news source The Guardian’s report, it seems that enough people understood that this was an actual issue that needed to be acknowledged, based on the fact that 20,000 people have already signed the petition in less than a day. 

It’s a good thing, then, that South Korean president Moon Jae-in has begun a petition to call for “stronger punishments for abusive online comments” / Photo by: duma.gov.ru via Wikimedia Commons