SEOUL, Dec. 27 (Korea Bizwire) – When a suicide note left by late K-pop star Jonghyun was revealed to the public last week, it was met with mourning and sympathy, with many relating to the late singer’s depression revealed in the letter.
In the note, which was released by his best friend Nine9 from rock band Dear Cloud, Jonghyun said he was ‘broken from inside’, lamenting that ‘depression slowly began eating away at me before swallowing me, and I couldn’t fight it.’
Criticism was soon leveled against the K-pop industry over the lifestyle of pressure, strict diet and workout regimes, and little to no personal life for idols that many saw as reasons behind Jonghyun’s shocking death.
However, the late singer’s secret battle against depression has also resonated with a much wider audience, reflecting similar struggles waged by tens of thousands of South Koreans each year.
The number of South Koreans suffering from depression has grown steadily over the last five years, as demonstrated by data released by the National Health Insurance Service at the request of lawmaker In Jae-keun last month.
Nearly 641,987 people were thought to have been diagnosed with depression last year, up 9.2 percent from 2012.
When broken down by gender, over 2 million women were diagnosed with depression between 2012 and 2016, more than twice as high as the increase in their male counterparts. However, the number of men diagnosed with depression grew more than twice as fast over the same period.
Data on age groups also showed depression is affecting everyone in South Korea, across both the gender and age spectrums, with older groups including those in their 60s, 70s and 80s among the particularly vulnerable.
Another study points to issues at the workplace where a secret battle with depression is fought by many individuals.
The survey conducted by Professor Hong Jin-pyo from the department of psychiatry at the Samsung Medical Center, and Professor Kim Young-hoon from Inje University Haeundae Paik Hospital last year revealed that 7.4 percent of workers are diagnosed with depression.
However, only 3 in 10 South Korean workers took sick leave despite being diagnosed with the condition.
South Korean workers with depression took 9.5 days of sick leave on average, drawing a stark contrast with the likes of France and Italy, where significantly more workers took sick leave for a longer period of time.
Even among those who took sick leave, only 34 percent stated their mental health status while the rest hid the reason for their absence.
“I feel like being known as depressed could make my life in the workplace difficult,” a worker who suffers from depression said.
Working with mental problems can lead to a number of serious cognitive impairments, including poor concentration and decision-making disabilities, and forgetfulness.
With nearly 27,000 having committed suicide due to mental and psychological problems over the last five years in South Korea, according to data provided by the National Police Agency, calls are growing on both society and the government to erase the stigma attached to depression and do more to address the crisis.
“Depression is one of the biggest problems facing people today across all generations. Instead of shrugging it off as a personal problem, the government needs to take a more active and systematic approach to addressing the issue, and we as a society need to show more attention and take responsibility to tackle the problem,” lawmaker In said.
In 2015, the Ministry of Health and Welfare spent only 2.2 percent of its budget on mental health services despite the country having one of the highest suicide rates in the world.
Fewer than 1 in 10 people with mental illness sought professional help the following year, according to the health ministry.
Ashley Song (firstname.lastname@example.org)