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Shadow behind the light: celebrities fighting panic disorder

Comedian Lee Kyung-kyu reveals having panic attacks

Behind his boisterous, lively persona hides an anxious man with constant fears of death, sickness and depression; Korea’s top comedian Lee Kyung-kyu said during a Sunday variety show that he suffers from panic disorder.

Lee, 52, is one of the most popular entertainers in the country, currently hosting KBS 2TV’s “Qualifications of a Man.” 

Comedian Lee Kyung-kyu
Comedian Lee Kyung-kyu

During Sunday’s show, Lee revealed he has been suffering from constant panic attacks for the past year and started taking prescription medication last year.

“I was constantly suffocating with fears of death. I would sometimes have to pinch myself to check whether I was still alive,” Lee said during the show. “I have been much better since taking medication and working out for the past four months.”

Lee’s revelation came as a surprise not only for the viewers, but to his colleagues on the show, as it was hard to imagine a depressed man from the funny, active comedian on TV.

An anxiety disorder characterized by recurring severe panic attacks, panic disorder is a form of psychological illness that many celebrities suffer from, including actors Cha Tae-hyun, Ha Yu-mi and Kim Ha-neul, as well as singers Kim Jang-hoon and Ha Dong-kyun.

Panic attacks can also include significant behavioral change lasting at least a month, according to a medical encyclopedia. A sufferer of the disease may become stressed and anxious as he or she cannot predict when the next panic attack will occur.

Symptoms that usually occur for about a minute may include lightheadedness, blurred vision, dizziness, shortness of breath, increased heart rate, perspiration and body tensing.

Stress, a lack of sleep and too much caffeine or alcohol are known to be some of the main causes of attacks, making celebrities more vulnerable to the illness, medical experts say.

“Panic disorder is not an illness that can be cured with one’s will. It is important to take prescriptions and a doctor’s advice as Lee has done,” said psychiatrist Pyo Jin-in on his Twitter account.

Dr. Kim Bum-jo of Samsung Happymind Psychiatric Clinic said panic attacks can only be fully cured via long-term treatment.

“The disorder can easily reoccur,” he said. “One needs to take medication from six months up to one year to prevent reoccurrence of the attacks.”

According to a recent study by Sungkyunkwan University School of Medicine, up to 14 percent of Korea’s 49 million people experience a panic attack at least once in a lifetime with about 406,000 people currently fighting the disorder. Females are two to three times more vulnerable to the illness compared to men, the study also showed. 

Although one cannot die from panic attacks, they can be a scary experience due to the similarities with a heart attack, medical experts say. 

Kim Jang-hoon
Kim Jang-hoon
Cha Tae-hyun
Cha Tae-hyun

Kim Jang-hoon, a popular singer, was hospitalized last month because of a panic attack after five years of no symptoms.

The 45-year-old is said to have been fighting the disorder ever since he was a kid. Panic attacks in young people can be particularly distressful because the child has less insight about what is happening, Kim said in a media interview.

While appearing on a cable channel talk show last year, actress Ha Yu-mi confessed to having a panic attack in Hong Kong, which she described as a “near-death frightening experience.”

“I couldn’t move my tongue and face at all. The hospital could not find the cause and I was afraid I would be like that for the rest of my life,” the veteran actress said.

Actor Cha Tae-hyun, star of the movie “My Sassy Girl,” said he suffered from severe panic attacks after viewership of a TV drama he acted in fell sharply.

“I was very stressed out and afraid to get out of the house without medication,” he said during an SBS talk show.

By Shin Hae-in


<관련 한글 기사>

유명 연예인들 '죽을 거 같아..'

최근 많은 인기 연예인들이 공개적으로 ‘공황장애’의 통증을 호소해 그 원인이 주목되고 있다.

김장훈, 김하늘, 차태현, 박영규 등을 비롯해 지난 8일에는 개그맨 이경규가 KBS 예능프로그램 ‘남자의 자격’에서 약물 치료를 고백해 연예인들의 공황장애가 다시 화제되고 있다.

이경규는 이날 방송에서 “공황장애로 4개월째 약을 먹고 있다”고 털어놨다. 그는 “죽을 것 같다는 심리 상태를 많이 경험했다. 심할 때는 마비가 오는 것 같고 녹화 도중 병원에 가기도 했다”고 말했다.

이같이 많은 유명 연예인들이 공황장애를 호소하는 이유는 연예인들의 심한 경쟁과 스트레스가 주요 원인일 것으로 보여진다.

공황장애의 원인에는 유전적, 생물학적, 주관적 심리, 스트레스 등 여러 원인이 있으나 특히 ‘연예인 병’으로 불릴만큼 연예인에게 흔히 발생되는 공황장애는 연예활동의 특수성에 주된 원인이 있는 것으로 분석된다.

이경규는 ‘남자의 자격’과 ‘꼬꼬면 출시’등 다시 맞은 전성기로 인해 극심한 과로를 토로했었고, 배우 차태현은 “과거 경쟁 드라마에 톱스타가 캐스팅되면서 자신이 출연하고 있는 드라마의 시청률이 떨어지자 공황장애를 겪었었다”고 밝힌 바 있다.

공황장애를 고백한 연예인들은 공통적으로, 연예인들의 심한 경쟁 스트레스와 인기하락에 대한 극심한 불안, 과도한 스케줄 소화 등을 토로해왔다.

이들은 연예활동이라는 특수한 직업때문에 이와 같은 심리적 압박감을 크게 느껴 일반인보다 공황장애를 더 자주 경험하는 것으로 보여진다.

한편, 가수 김장훈은 지난해 공연을 앞두고 공황장애로 입원했으며, 배우 차태현은 한 방송에서 공황장애 때문에 MC로 서지 못하는 심경을 밝히기도 했다.
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