K-Pop Stars Get Vocal About Mental Health

By Beth Leipholtz 10/30/19

The pressure to appear perfect and the relentless touring can take a heavy toll on K-pop stars. 

Image: 
k-pop group TWICE
K-pop girl group TWICE Photo via YouTube

As discussion of mental health is becoming more mainstream in American media, music and entertainment industries in other countries are starting to broach the topic as well. 

One such industry is K-pop. K-pop, or Korean pop, is a type of music with roots in South Korea. According to Teen Vogue, the industry tends to groom its artists at a very young age and is fairly intense when it comes to the amount of pressure that is placed on them.

High Suicide Rates In South Korea

When it comes to mental health, South Korea has one of the highest suicide rates in the entire world, as well as minimal resources for individuals battling mental health disorders.

So it’s no surprise that young people in the country are wanting to speak up about the issue, especially in the wake of two suspected suicides in the industry. In December 2017, boy-band member Kim Jonghyun died by suspected suicide after struggling with depression with no help.

A few weeks ago, singer and actress Sulli also died by suspected suicide.      

"K-pop stars usually make their debut during important formative years of their youth," Dr. Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe, a New York-based physician and health expert, told Teen Vogue. "They may face the continuous stress of intense schedules, sleep deprivation, and the daunting pressure to be 'perfect' in the public eye."

In the K-pop world, there is an unrealistic pressure to appear perfect. Those well-known in the industry are often scrutinized and critiqued endlessly, which can take a toll. 

"Having to deal with such intense stress and public scrutiny at a very young age is not something that everyone can handle," Okeke-Igbokwe said. "Experiencing high levels of stress incessantly can compromise anyone's physical and mental health. Chronic stress may translate into a weaker immune system for some and increase the risk of various health conditions."

Changing The Narrative

Korean boy band ATEEZ is among those hoping to change the narrative when it comes to positivity and mental health. 

"We always talk about the sunrise," said Hongjoong, a member of the band. "If we watch the sun rise up, we can rise up. We have a real type of emotional connection to that image too...so, when we talk about our image, we talk about that, we're like a sunrise. If the sun rises, then it's bright and wonderful, so I connect that with us."

Others, such as Mina of K-pop girl group TWICE, are putting their well-being first by choosing to take breaks as needed. This year, Mina chose to sit out on the group’s U.S. tour, stating the reason was "sudden extreme anxiety and insecurity towards performing on stage."

In some cases, entertainment groups in South Korea are starting to discuss suicide prevention and sexual health with their artists, Teen Vogue notes. 

"It is so critical that healthy outlets are available for these young stars to cope with stress and really make self-care a priority while they endeavor to make it to the top," Okeke-Igbokwe said.

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at www.lifetobecontinued.com, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.

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