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Wednesday, Nov 13, 2019

Sulli’s death sparks debate on bullying

The K-pop star is suspected to have committed suicide, putting the spotlight back on the mental health of celebrities.

music Updated: Oct 16, 2019 16:05 IST
Farozan Akhtar
Farozan Akhtar
Hindustan Times
K-pop star Sulli was found dead in her home on October 14.
K-pop star Sulli was found dead in her home on October 14.(Photo: Instagram/jelly_jilli)

“Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not a bad person.” These words by K-pop star Sulli, spoken in one of her Instagram lives, will forever haunt fans and haters alike. The 25-year-old South Korean singer-actor, who faced severe cyber bullying for years and was vocal about her struggle with depression, was found dead at home on Monday afternoon, days after World Mental Health Day (October 10). Suspected to be a suicide, Sulli’s death has put the limelight back on worrying mental health conditions in showbiz and shocked fans who remember her outspoken personality.

“I was at work when I got the news. My WhatsApp groups started going off crazily and everyone was tagging me,” says Shriya Banerjee, a fan from Gurugram. “My heart still refuses to believe that a bright star like Sulli has passed away. She was bullied by netizens since the beginning. Even her cry for help was neglected,” she adds, referring to one of the K-pop star’s Instagram lives last year, where the former member of the girl group f(x) was seen silently crying while looking at the camera. “She was smiling and posting selfies till two days ago. Now she’s just...gone. Depression is a beast no one should have to tackle alone,” says Anirudh Garg, another fan.

READ | A farewell to Kim Jong-hyun from K-pop fans in India

“I’m extremely sad. I even watched her last Instagram live. She died after No Bra Day... and was criticised most for her bra-less pictures… She was so, so bold, spoke against sexism, never hid any feelings,” remembers banker Sri Naga Sowmya. Another fan, Akanksha Kacker, says, “People tend to overlook that those in the public eye are just as human, and words of hate affect them as much as it would affect any other person.”

Pulkit Sharma, clinical psychologist, cites the constant stress to outdo themselves as one of the factors contributing to depression among celebrities. “The pressure of maintaining and replicating their success, and the fear of sliding back into nothingness are the biggest worries of artists. The lack of stable long-term relationships to bank upon would also aggravate the situation,” he says.

“Sometimes there’s substance abuse — alcohol, cocaine, methamphetamine — that makes things even more difficult for young artists,” points out psychiatrist Gorav Gupta. The absence of efficient coping skills can make suicide seem like an easier way out.

Many musicians, such as Amy Winehouse, Avicii, Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington, and K-pop star Jonghyun, also fell prey to depression. “To think Sulli was smiling the previous day but took such a drastic step. Two years ago when Jonghyun passed away, I never understood the reason. Now, having gone through the same battle for a year, I understand how Sulli must have felt,” shares Harine Nagaraj, a student. “Cyberbullies made her look bad in front of the whole world when all she wanted was to stay firm by her opinions,” says Joann Fernandez, a teen fan. “Sulli was one of the first female idol-actors I got introduced to, with her TV show To The Beautiful You. She was so bright and sweet. And words, whether said personally or online, are likely to have a lot of impact on a person’s psyche. Artists are also people,” says Diksha Sagar, a student . Agrees Arushi Srivastava, another fan: “It’s hard to believe Sulli is no more. I want to tell the audience to give their words a thought... Two years ago, it was Jonghyun, now it’s Sulli.”

READ | Indian K-pop star Priyanka: If BTS didn’t give up, who am I to quit?

A dissonance between the personal identity and professional image is another point of concern. “Once you are in showbiz, you are expected to maintain a certain standard. What you wear, where you vacation, what car you drive, there’s a pressure to maintain that social image. Artists have to carry that metaphorical albatross — that they have to be a star, act like a star,” says Sharma. And failure to keep up can attract trolls, who feed on a gamut of insecurities, worsening any existing conditions such as anxiety. “It would be a good idea to take a break from social media. Take frequent timeouts to recharge,” he advises, adding, “It helps to have different anchor points in life — family, hobbies, any interests outside of showbiz. If something is going wrong in one aspect of your life, you have something else to distract you, other sources of happiness.”

Experts also recommend seeking professional help if things seem to be getting out of hand. “It won’t reduce your worth as a person,” adds Sharma.

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