Since it appears to be mental-health awareness week in K-Pop….

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Between TOP’s apparent suicide attempt and Gain’s back-and-forth with the police, it seemed to me like a good time to make some observations about mental health, both in general and in the peculiar world of K-Pop.

1.  Medical translation is its own area of specialty. Getting medical information translated correctly is a huge challenge even in hospital settings, where the stakes are very, very high.

And any time these types of stories come up, you’re actually dealing with several layers of communication problems. The first layer of problems happens when a medical specialist attempts to communicate with a lay journalist writing for a lay audience. (No lie: I used to joke when I wrote about medical issues that I was actually a translator.)

It’s not like Korean journalists are particularly hard working or competent. So, it’s Korean medical specialists => Korean reporters => Korean news stories, and then Korean news stories => English news stories.

So when police in Korea say what is translated as “TOP’s not unconscious; he’s just asleep!” (and of course the asshole haters say, “He’s just taking a nap!” because they are 1. assholes, and 2. haters)–well, yes, the police are probably trying to minimize what happened to TOP, but in all likelihood that statement wasn’t anywhere near as egregious as it comes across in English.

What would they say in English? Good luck figuring that one out–they’d probably just stick to the fact that he’s not in critical condition and is capable of being roused. Maybe they’d say that he’s unconscious but not in a coma, but maybe not. Even terms like “unconscious” and “coma” are less cut-and-dried than people often think: We have a widely used coma scale, but it’s considered kind of unhelpful in medical circles for a lot of reasons.

2. Disorders are called disorders for a reason. Honestly, I really hate the slack-jawed gaping that happens when people clearly have significant mental-health disorders. You get this audience that’s like, “Wow, look at these people!!! Why are they acting so crazy!? Why are they so ridiculous? Where’s the popcorn?”

Yes, Gain overreacted when a buddy suggested she smoke pot, and she didn’t anticipate that the police would be interested even though Korea has very strict laws regarding marijuana. Gain has a panic disorder. That fact explains everything about her behavior.

Do you think well when you are panicking? No. Irrational thoughts are a hallmark of panic and anxiety disorders! Her buddy suggested pot, and Gain freaked the fuck out because she has a panic disorder. She panicked when she shouldn’t have; hence the term panic disorder–if her panic were under control, she wouldn’t have a panic disorder. Gain was unable to realistically predict the consequences of her actions because she has a panic disorder. Her excessive panic caused her to make bad choices; this is why it’s called a panic disorder, not a panic all-is-well-you’re-doing-great-everything’s-in-order!

(Personal note: You should have seen the shit show when a totally qualified mental-health professional suggested that one of my relatives go on a common prescription medication for their panic disorder. This is why I don’t work in mental health.)

Why is it called a broken leg? Because your leg is broken. Why is it called a ruptured spleen? Because your spleen is ruptured. Why is it called a panic disorder? Because your panic is fucking up your life.

Why is Gain acting the way she is? Because she has a panic disorder. She told people she has a panic disorder, she’s acting like someone with a panic disorder, and people just can’t put two and two together to figure out what the holy heck is going on with that Gain gal!

3. Being super-judgmental is not helpful. It’s not just the people blathering on about how someone who attempted suicide is “weak” (dicks). It’s also the people saying that Gain is a stupid bitch. Anyone with a serious panic disorder is 1. stupid (i.e. not thinking well, because panicking), and 2. a bitch (i.e. not much fun to be around, because panicking).

It’s especially obnoxious when, hello, the person informed everyone about their mental health issue. “I have a broken leg.” “People just say that because they want sympathy!” “I have a broken leg.” “Why can’t you walk?” “I have a broken leg.” “Why ain’t you running?” “I have a broken leg.” “Why are you lying on the ground?” “I have a broken leg.” “Stop making excuses, you rotten lazy bum!”

But the main problem with laying into people who are suffering from depression or any kind of anxiety disorder is that they are already laying into themselves. You don’t attempt suicide out of an excess of self-love.

It’s also important to keep in mind that everyone is just one hardship or catastrophe away from experiencing a depressive/anxiety/post-traumatic-stress disorder of their very own. You don’t develop these disorders because you’re weak (dicks) any more than you rupture your spleen because you’re weak.

4. Self-reflection is not some panacea. I’m all for people being self-aware, but the whole emphasis on self-reflection in K-Pop…a-ha-ha-ha. I mean, the people telling TOP that they wanted him to reflect, not commit suicide–oh my God, what a bunch of self-deluded control freaks. “Oppa, I wanted you to hate yourself this much, not that much!”

This is I think where the fact that many K-Pop fans are very young comes into play: People seem to honestly believe that they can send an adult with problems into a corner to think about what he’s done, and once the timer runs out he’ll stop spitting into the other kids’ milk and everything will be taken care of.

The problem is that depressed and anxious people are already thinking about themselves–specifically about how much they suck. They’re thinking about that a lot. The psychological term used for this is rumination, and it’s regarded as a pathological thought pattern that is important to break out of if you want to get better.

PSA Time!

On the off chance that you’ve been feeling “weak” or like a “stupid bitch,” rather than suggesting self-reflection, I’m going to list some books that I have found helpful with my own mental-health issues (caused by my own deep-seated and inherent inadequacies, of course). I also see a therapist, get regular exercise, and get as much sun exposure as I can during the dark & gloomy months, but I started with books, because they were easy and cheap, and they did help.

Honestly, a big part of the battle is taking that first step.

  • Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David D. Burns
  • Mind Over Mood: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think by Dennis Greenberger & Christine A. Padesky
  • Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom by Rick Hanson
  • The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach To Getting the Life You Want by Sonja Lyubomirsky
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19 responses »

  1. I was so very afraid something like this could happen.I don’t really even know that much about Choi Seung-hyun but I was getting some very strong pings from him – not looking well before his enlistment,then the marijuana “scandal” broke & he was paraded out of the police station w/”reporters” in his face,then whatever was going on w/him eating cup noodles by himself whether it was his choice or perhaps more likely the military was isolating him,I thought to myself last night is he equipped to handle this alone.It’s also very personal feeling because I’ve been there & done that.Many years ago I was prescribed Triavil for depression & one fine Sunday morning I decided I just wanted to shut everything off & get away for awhile…I had part of a bottle & took the whole thing at once.I was by myself,no one knew & it was So.Damned.Easy.I never woke up til late Wednesday night of that week.I have no memory of those days whatsoever,it’s just a black space w/nothing in it.I never formed the thought :I’m going to kill myself but I sure as hell didn’t want to be Here.So it’s possible T.O.P was feeling something similar,i.e. it was intentional but it was more in an effort to just make it all Stop if only for awhile rather than to check out permanently.Whatever the case I truly hope he’s going to be ok.He really needs time to be out of the glare of this spotlight & I’m afraid he’s not going to get it.

    On another note,I finally checked Kyung’s Ig last night & breathed a sigh of relief the Wiz K pic is gone.I’m paranoid that between T.O.P & Ga In that there’s going to be a widening ripple effect.I’ve only looked at AJ today.I can’t bring myself to look at Nb,I opened it & shut it right back down,I’m not up for wading through toxic waste.

    • Oooh, that’s scary. Thank goodness you made it through. I made two attempts when I was a kid–one was planned out and deliberate (home life was not easy), but the other was very spontaneous and wasn’t triggered by anything in particular. It was almost like, because I can, I will. Why not? Fortunately I didn’t know enough to experience anything more severe than a stomachache (and the adults never knew–I share those stories with my parent friends when I want to scare the shit out of them).

      There is no good reason to read through Netizenbuzz right now, believe me. You are not missing anything; it’s a real cesspool.

      • Yeah,I’m not particularly religious but when I think of the things I did in my 20’s I must’ve had a Guardian Angel or some thing,especially because I never really managed to scare myself at the time,it was more like Well…That happened..I eventually came to the conclusion that no one can really say what “normal” is,that Every one has some sort of “issue” & only the degree of it varies.Age has helped,I learned to accept certain truths that I couldn’t/didn’t want to when I was younger but I know that rough home life too & it’s not an easy way to start out,in fact it sucks.

        No Nb,no Akp,I don’t want rumors & speculations just facts,this is more serious than somebody’s dating scandal.

        • Yeah, at this point when I see people who try to come across as aggressively super-normal, I just kind of laugh. Of course you’re perfect! ABSOLUTELY PERFECT!!!!!

          The focus on rumors and speculation bothers the crap out of me, too. The problem with the K-Pop press (English OR Korean) is that they just don’t have the skills to handle real stories–everything’s treated like a dating scandal because they don’t have the training or the newsroom culture to do anything more.

  2. The reporting for this has been such a sh*t show, both within Korea and in international communities (don’t even get me started on how quickly unverified news was spreading around on Tumblr and Twitter…). What’s most frustrating to me is how shocked/confused a lot of people are when mental health issues arise in kpop. I mean, these issues are already prevalent among lay people (though sadly stigmatized). Add in the public scrutiny and vitriolic netizens, and the scales are practically tipped against idols.

    I guess the main problem is the fact that idols are branded as “idols” in the first place, rather than just celebrities/artists/performers etc. That label has been used to justify intrusions of privacy, compromises to physical health, etc. It’s honestly pretty shocking to me when people say “that’s their job, that’s what they get paid to do.” Like that may effectively be true, but aren’t we the slightest bit disgusted with ourselves for allowing these darker aspects to flourish? 😛

    • That’s the thing about the Perfect People marketing–folks want to believe it very badly. You’re selling a fantasy to people, and because it’s a fantasy that appeals to them, people REALLY REALLY do not want to have a look under the hood and see the grimy reality there. And I understand it to an extent, because we all need a break from grimy reality now and again. But it reminds me of the way people treat sex workers–they don’t want to hear about, say, porn workers not getting any money nowadays, because one of the reasons they watch porn (for free!) is to get their minds away from depressing crap like their own money problems. (Plus porn workers deserve it because they’re dirty whores…people will rationalize exploitation any way they can.)

      I don’t like the “they signed up for this” argument, either. I mean, it’s obviously just a way of shifting blame so that netizens don’t have to examine their own behavior, but the other thing is that they probably DIDN’T sign up for it–their parents did, or if they did they were barely legal. You have 17-year-olds signing seven-year contracts–that’s basically insane, and to me it shouldn’t come as some big shock if a teenager changes their mind about something, especially once they’ve actually had to live it.

      • I hate the whole “idol” moniker,it’s too glossy a term.My problem is I’m always trying to look behind the mask for the reality so when I read comments gushing ‘he’s so cuteeee my king’ I very well might instead be seeing sad,thin,tired & cant understand why everyone else can’t see it too.I guess that would be too much like giving up their fantasy.

  3. This whole thing is really a mess, the k-comments, it’s just vile pice of… on the other hand these are the people who drag down a girl because she stuck her leg out too much or guy cause he accidentaly (not happend) touched a girl boobs or many other idiotic situations like that, I mean…

    Have you ever watched Hello Conselor, I’m not suprised that mental health in SK is just basically laugh upon and brushed under a rag, cause what they basically do on this show.

    • I watched a part of one once where Peniel of BTOB talked about how his hair was falling out from stress.Those kind of shows make me uncomfortable.I wouldn’t want to discuss personal things in front of a studio audience & then have someone trying to make jokes about it,it’s no laughing matter.

  4. well, there’s the money price there but I don’t think that this is the main reason that people want to go on that show. Many of them have really searious issues especialy children, it would be great if they were, even if not during the show later on, helped by profesionals, but I doubted it’s happening..

    And now it appears that TOP wanted to meet with psychiatrist few days back but was unable to…

    • Yes,I just saw that this morning.No one seemed to know why T.O.P missed the appt though,was he not given leave or just didn’t go,or..? It seems the police mishandled his situation right from the start of his service & some are questioning if he should really have been serving if he was on strong medication.

      I worry that kpop stars don’t always want to be on the shows they are sent to,they probably don’t have a choice a lot of times.If it was a serious show that was doing public education & the star agreed to it that would have potential to be a good thing if it was handled properly.But not if it’s just some company manager saying: Oh Peniel lost his hair,Shocking! How can we use this for press….:(

      • He shuldn’t have that’s why he went to police unit, the fans are saying thet it was well known secret that he was hospitalized in 2008 or so from the same thing, overdose most likely due to break up, and he was known to have depression and to be honest for me it looks like even on verge of being biopolar… but knetz don’t buy this kind of stuff, he would get more hate if he wouldn’t go to military at all, thet just don’t think, I mean there are some celebs who were rejected by military due to serious health issues but they still get hate, and they still make tests to be accepted and to avoid that backslash, they deffinitely give to much power to some random comments on the net…

        I think though that Peniel wanted to go… as he said it was stressfull to hide it all the time, to wear wigs and be scared that it my reveal that he’s bald, and now it’s probably reliefe that he doesn’t have to do that

        • I did see the theory that they thought the police unit would be a “safe” way for him to serve hoping it would minimize backlash to him but then the whole marijuana thing broke & things spiraled out of control.When it first came out I tried chatting to someone who speaks Korean & English & expressed my concern that even though it’s against the law I hoped that ppl would stop to realize he’s just a human being who can make mistakes & probably only wanted to de-stress.She (?) said that “he’s SKorean before he is T.O.P” & she was “just going to wait”…Individuality does not seem to be prized & I’ve seen that but I didn’t understand the waiting part,I didn’t write a reply I just felt that I wasn’t waiting-either you support him or you don’t.With all the terrible things going on in the world on a daily basis smoking mj,legal or not,doesn’t even register.Its not like he blazed up & ran over a crowd of school children w/a car.I had a feeling of dread that this could happen & I wish I’d been wrong but he looked unwell,he seems to have a fragile psyche & he’d been ratted out then publicly humiliated.I just hope he’s going to make it through this.

          • I thought the same, like it’s not he injected hard cocain in little children pupils, or did dui under mj , yes it was illegal but come on… they acted like he killed the family of five whilest smiling and singing doom dada or sth…

            Yes I also hope that he will got through this, considering the weight of his ‘crime’ he really does not deserve the hate and treatment his getting

          • In the Solfa video about Chris Brown the women were saying, “Oh, that might be OK for foreigners, but we Koreans judge the whole person,” and he pointed out that GD and MC Mong seem to be doing just fine in Korea. And they were REALLY embarrassed–almost ashamed–to have it pointed out that, when push comes to shove, Koreans don’t really care about all that stuff either. I think it’s just REALLY not considered OK there to actually come out and say, “I don’t care if he’s a jerk–he’s got really hot body.” or “I like his voice and find his Instagram entertaining; I’m not his mother, and I don’t care if he’s getting high.” You’re at least supposed to give lip service to this “it’s the whole person!” notion, even if the fact is that, in real life, you’re happy to compartmentalize and buy someone’s music just because you like it.

            • I suppose it may have something to do w/their culture of not wanting to appear to offend but it seems to me compartmentalization is part of human nature.We do it every day in all aspects of our lives,it’s a tier system:top shelf,middle shelf,bottom shelf,trash bin.It’s kind of nice to know they realize it’s hypocritical but maybe it would be better if they could stop Being hypocrites.I know,easy for me to say – it’s so part of my nature to not take things at face value & question everything that even the whole respect people just because they’re older,even if it’s only by a few months/years doesn’t sit well w/me.I’d be a fish out of water there for sure.

  5. TOP was my first real bias in kpop, or in music in general, really, and I went to the Big Bang concert in New Jersey just to look at him from afar while under the same roof.

    My heart hurts.

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