Smile for the People | Asian Idols and Mental Health

TW: Suicide mention

This is a topic that is often at the back of my mind as an idol fan but after the recent news that King & Prince member Iwahashi Genki will be taking a break from the group due to struggling with panic disorder, I finally decided to sit down and write this post. First a bit of my personal background in regards to idols and mental health.

As a lot of us here in the online world seem to do, I suffered from mental health issues for a long time. I won't get too specific about what those issues were as that isn't the purpose of this post but I did talk about some of it in one of my posts last month, and the rest you can probably guess. It was in 2016 though that I sank to the lowest point I've ever been at. I was hardly leaving my house (or even my bedroom for that matter) and that's when idols came back into my life.

Back in 2012 I had been a huge Johnny's Entertainment fan but eventually lost interest. It was during one of those days in 2016 though that I was sat at home feeling depressed that I decided to get out my old Sexy Zone DVDs. After a brief trip down memory lane (checking out old Johnny's stuff and new stuff that had come out since I left the fandom), I started to discover lots of new boy groups outside of Johnny's Entertainment that I became very passionate about (I'm sure most of you know about The G=AGE Era) and long story short, that was how this blog was started. My love of idols just gave me something to smile about on those dark, lonely days where nothing about the future seemed certain and it also gave me that support I needed when I was ready to start coming out of that and making positive changes for myself.

Iwahashi Genki was actually one of my favourite Juniors back in my Johnny's days. He was so sweet, shy, and awkward and I suppose I emphasized with him a bit due to his history of being bullied and being unable to attend school due to his anxiety around the bullying. As far as I know Genki never mentioned having any sort of anxiety disorder but I could always sort of tell; like with how obviously nervous he would get before performances and the like, often getting stomach aches.

I was surprised when he ended up becoming quite popular, forming a sort of pair with Jinguji Yuta (another one of my favourite Juniors) but I was happy for him. When I heard he was debuting as part of King & Prince, of course I was happy but part of me did wonder whether he'd be able to cope, as while being a trainee is no walk in the park either, it must be a very different experience from being a member of a debuted group.

And then, well, the news came late last month that Genki would be taking a break from the group to receive treatment for his panic disorder and my reaction was, "A shame but I'm not surprised." It's good that he's prioritizing his health though and I wish him luck with his treatment and hope he'll be able to return to the group as soon as he's able.

This got me thinking about just a couple of months ago when member Yamazaki Haruki graduated from M!LK. He was very vague about his reasons for leaving at first but a later statement he released -- although not explicity mentioned -- hinted to an ongoing struggle with his mental health. He's opened up a Twitter account now and a lot of his recent tweets do say to me that he's just not very happy in himself at the moment.

Rare as it may be for me to talk about Kpop idols on this blog, I remember when the news of the death of SHINee member Kim Jong-hyun hit late last year. His death is believed to have been a suicide brought on by the heavy demands of working in the Kpop idol industry. While Japan and South Korea's idol industries are very different, it's no doubt that there are a lot of pressures that idols have to deal with that we probably wouldn't even think about, regardless of which country they're in. Are their management doing all they can to make sure their mental health doesn't suffer too much as a result? I guess it depends on the specific agency.

I don't want to be one of those people who's only been to Japan once but claims to know all about Japanese culture because they've read a few articles about it online, but there does seem to still be a lot of stigma around mental health issues in Japan. I often wonder how many idols there are who are secretly struggling with these issues but they're just expected to deal with it.

Idols are often expected to be "above average" in so many ways. I remember watching a lot of Johnny's shows in the past where the boys would be expected to learn a skill in the space of a few days that would normally take a person years to master. I honestly admired some of them for being able to power through all of the stress and anxiety that must have caused, all for the purpose of our entertainment as fans. A large part of being an idol is smiling and making other people happy so it would come as no surprise to me that there would be a lot of idols who do struggle greatly in these areas but don't feel able to be open about it.

Around the time of Kim Jong-hyun's death, I saw a quote online somewhere (and I am paraphrasing) that went something like: "Idols saved us from depression, so please allow us to do the same for them". There isn't a lot we can do as fans, I know but the thought of my favourite idol (or anyone really) suffering greatly with some of these issues but feeling as if they can't be open about it with anyone? That's devasting to me. I suppose all we can do is hope that our love and support reaches them and that they're able to reach out and get help for these issues before it's too late.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Please let me know in the comments.

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