CoCo's death puts depression in spotlight

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The sudden death by suicide of singer-songwriter CoCo Lee has turned the spotlight on depression, which the singer had been diagnosed with.

The wildly popular singer-songwriter died on Wednesday. The 48-year-old had attempted suicide at home in Hong Kong on Sunday and had been in a coma since.

"Many with depression do not want to tell others about their condition, because they do not want to burden others with their suffering," said Hao Xu, 31, who works in marketing in Shanghai, and was diagnosed with clinical depression in 2014.

Hao said he felt deep regret at the loss of the superstar whose songs had brought him immense joy. "I grew up listening to her songs, such as the theme song of Lotus Lantern," Hao said, referring to the 1999 animation film by Chinese director Chang Guangxi.

He added that Lee's suicide shattered certain preconceptions people have about depression. For instance, those living with depression may not always appear sad or downcast.

"Early stage depression can be hard to detect. Those displaying obvious symptoms may be grappling with late-stage conditions," Hao said. However, there are warning signs that families and close friends of patients can look out for like insomnia or a sudden loss of interest in things they used to be passionate about.

Dismissing the symptoms as unreasonable behavior can be devastating, said Hao.

Shaye, 33, who works in finance in Shanghai, said older people are less aware about this mental health issue. The younger generation is more informed about the struggles of those battling depression, as many have experienced similar feelings themselves.

Shaye, who only wanted to be identified by her nickname, said she could relate to Lee's decision to commit suicide because she had been there. After spending many sleepless nights, Shaye sought help from sleep clinics in 2021. It was then that she was diagnosed with moderate depression.

"The insomnia was so disrupting. It was accompanied by physical discomfort such as chest pain, abdominal pain and sore shoulders," she said, adding that she had suicidal thoughts at the time.

CoCo Lee is not the first public figure whose death has kindled public interest in depression. Leslie Cheung, a pop singer and actor who starred in the Oscar-nominated 1993 film Farewell My Concubine, died in 2003 after leaping from the 24th floor of a hotel in Hong Kong. He had been diagnosed with depression.

In an interview with China News Service, Shen Tengteng, a psychiatrist with Peking University Sixth Hospital, said though many depression patients do not display discernible symptoms in public settings, their upbeat mood seldom lasted for long.

They would display symptoms at least for some time during the day. "If people seem down, or display lack of interest, or have sleeping problems, or loss of appetite, friends and families need to intervene," he said.

In December 2020, the National Health Commission said that 2.1 percent of Chinese residents were depressed while 4.98 percent had anxiety issues.

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