This morning, I woke up to the news that kpop idol Sulli, Choi Jinri, had taken her own life. Although I’m relatively new to the world of kpop, Sulli was instantly notable to me for several reasons. First, as a member of the group f(x). Then for her solo release earlier this, Goblin, a song (and official video) that focused on mental health issues. Finally, for her surprisingly forthright discussions concerning her own battle with depression. I say surprising because, in an industry where public images are carefully crafted and curated by entertainment companies, Sulli’s interviews were personal, raw, and brutally honest. I recall reading one such interview just a few weeks ago wherein she admitted that her sunny facade belied a painful internal struggle with depression.
Many will debate the causes, but there’s no doubt that the pressures of being an idol, and the demands placed upon her, contributed to the strain she was under. And then there were the pressures applied on her by the media and an at times mean-spirited fandom. I mention the latter because, in one of her last instagram posts, she talked about the considerable amount of negativity directed at her on social media, at one point, clearly exasperated, wondering: “I’m not a bad person. I’m sorry. Why do you say bad things about me? What did I do?”.
It’s incredibly sad.
The internet now offers the opportunity for a direct connection to individuals who, in the past, may have been unattainable. Today, if you tag your favorite celebrity, there’s a chance they may respond by liking your post, perhaps even answering with a message of their own. It creates a pseudo-intimacy that proves a double-edged sword, empowering people in both good ways and bad. I remember going out to dinner with an actor who admitted that he is always heartened by the many positive messages fans send his way, but he invariably can’t help fixating on those lone occasional negative comments. It’s human nature, I think. Celebrities are particularly susceptible to the best and worst the internet has to offer. And those that struggle with depression are especially vulnerable.
I have a few friends who battle depression, several online acquaintances who have been quite honest and open about their own internal struggles, and I’m often at a loss as to how to help. Words of support always struck me as insufficient, but recent experience has taught me that even these seemingly smallest of gestures go such a long way toward allowing others to feel less alone. And that can make an enormous difference.