By Bae Ji-sook
The suspected suicide of top actress Choi Jin-sil has driven the nation into shock. Behind her ever-cheerful image and smile lies the dark side of a star who captured the hearts of Koreans for two decades.
Choi was the fifth icon of the entertainment industry to commit suicide since 2007. Singer Yuni, TV actress Jeong Da-bin, actor Yeo Jae-gu and Ahn Jae-hwan also killed themselves. Their deaths highlight the darker side of the show biz world.
Dr. Hong Jin-pyo of Asan Medical Center assumed that there must have been multiple factors in Choi's suicide. ``She may have been physically exhausted, couldn't stand the rumors that she had joined hands with loan sharks to get back a loan from Ahn Jae-hwan, who had committed suicide.''
In fact, many of Choi's friends said she had been haunted by such rumors for a long time and was under pressure.
A singer, who identified herself as a suicide attempter, recently appeared on a TV program and said most of her coworkers suffer from anxiety and loneliness. ``You are always under the watchful public eye and people's evaluation makes you feel small and low. Since entertainers are accustomed to being taken care of and loved, they do not know how to deal with their problems on their own.''
Malicious comments and rumors on the Internet have added stress to them too. Singers Yuni and Choi allegedly suffered from thousands of malicious letters. The so-called keyboard warriors have sworn, spread unconfirmed rumors and insulted their idols. On Thursday, portal sites blocked posting replies under articles related to Choi.
But most of all, the doctor added that she seemed to have suffered from depression, the notorious mental disease that is alleged to have affected all other four deceased entertainers. ``She lived a show window life. Every bit of herself was exaggerated and was spread through anonymous people and was the object of simple curiosity and nothing more,'' he said.
The psychologist indicated that Choi might have suffered from post-traumatic syndrome after her divorce in 2004 and other financial and career difficulties she had encountered ``About 80 percent of those who commit suicide suffered from clinical depression,'' he added.
Since Choi was one of the most influential TV personalities ever, her death could affect thousands of others in society, experts warn. The so-called Werther effect (copycat suicide), named after German poet Geothe's vulnerable persona, is also of public concern. They worry whether her death could ignite a spate of suicide ``domino effect''.
Doctors advise treatment of depression and other disease that could seriously damage one's mental status. Health-Welfare-Family Affairs Minister Jeon Jae-hee advised mental patients seek counseling.
She also urged people to take suicide seriously. ``In the past, we have learned that the number of those who committed suicide marked a sharp rise whenever cases like this happen. Suicide is very `infectious' and dangerous,'' Hong Gang-eui, head of the Korean Association for Suicide Prevention, said.
Korea has the highest suicide rate among OECD member countries, with 24.7 killing themselves per 100,000 in 2007.