Now Reading: How the Death of SHINee’s Jonghyun Is a Wake Up Call For Mental Health Awareness In South Korea


How the Death of SHINee’s Jonghyun Is a Wake Up Call For Mental Health Awareness In South Korea

December 19, 20175 min read

As of Monday, Dec. 18, 2017 (South Korea time), one of K-pop’s biggest stars Kim Jonghyun from SHINee has sadly and suddenly passed away. He was found unconscious at his rented apartment studio in Seoul and was quickly rushed to the hospital but was pronounced dead not long after. Police suspected he might’ve committed suicide as they found brown liquid from burning coal in a frying pan and detected that the toxic smoke might’ve caused carbon monoxide poisoning. Hours before the incident Jonghyun’s sister received a message of his final words, tugging emotionally on people’s and especially fans’ hearts:

It was hard

Please send me away

Tell me that I’ve worked hard

This is my last farewell

Jonghyun (seen in the middle) along with the rest of the members from SHINee (Source: Soompi)

Korea and many other Asian countries still aren’t taking mental health issues as seriously as it is. The negative stigma around it makes it harder for people to reach out for help which is also why South Korea has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. According to Vice’s documentary, living in such a competitive society that is Korea results in severe academic stress and with collective selfishness, people who fall behind are considered useless failures leading to depression and suicide. In the entertainment industry especially, trainees and even successful idols also have to deal with the pressure of having the perfect body, face, and not to mention the endless hate comments and threats. As fans, we only see what’s on the surface – we are shown shining appearances, warm smiles and lovable personalities but little do we know what they are dealing with inside when the cameras aren’t rolling.


Jonghyun has always shown subtle signs of his depression whether it’s through the songs he sing, interviews or one of which is his most recent Instagram post back in November captioned “I pray you aren’t hurting” with the lyrics also being dark itself.

As a top idol from one of Korea’s top agencies S.M. Entertainment, Jonghyun was hardworking, ambitious, determined and was always a kind and genuine soul. He was never involved in any scandals and is an avid supporter of the LGBTQ+ community despite the backlash from the media in Korea.

We won’t remember Jonghyun for how he died but rather what he’s achieved and done throughout his short but well-lived life. He will be greatly missed – for his amazing stage presence, contributions to the music industry and just overall being a wonderful person to his loved ones including family members, SHINee members, colleagues, S.M. staffs and of course, his fans. May his legacy lives on and forever be respected.


Stream Jonghyun’s music here

Stream SHINee’s music here

Mental health is still a taboo topic in a country as conservative as South Korea – those who do have it are called as “weak” and those succeeded in ending their lives are called “cowards”. Jonghyun’s death is a sad reminder of how serious suicide is in South Korea specifically and that it could happen to the most unexpected people because of how well they hide their pain. If only the government and citizens of South Korea are more open to the idea of raising awareness for mental issues, it could save even just one extra precious life.

This leads us to wonder: When will mental illnesses be treated like physical illnesses


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