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Shadow behind the light: Celebrities fight panic disorder

Lee Kyung-kyu reveals panic attack experiences


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.”

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.”
Comedian Lee Kyung-kyu
Comedian Lee Kyung-kyu

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. 
Singer Kim Jang-hoon
Singer Kim Jang-hoon
Actor Cha Tae-hyun (The Korea Herald)
Actor Cha Tae-hyun (The Korea Herald)

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
(hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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