Coco Lee’s Heartbreaking Passing: Unraveling the Struggle with Depression

On July 5, 2023, the Hong Kong-born Chinese superstar Coco Lee tragically passed away, allegedly due to depression, leaving the public in shock, sorrow, and endless nostalgia. As a bright and vibrant icon, it was only now revealed that she had been battling depression for many years. The stark contrast between Coco Lee’s radiant aura and the darkness of death shed light once again on the challenging issue of “depression. No one should underestimate this invisible killer” and ignore its warning signs.

Mr Alex Ng Wei Siong, a clinical psychologist and counsellor at Subang Jaya Medical Centre, addressed seven crucial questions about depression in an interview with “The Interview to help the public understand the warning signs of depression, the concept of “smiling depression,” and how to cope with it.

In 2001, Coco Lee graced the stage of the 73rd Academy Awards, singing the English version of the theme song “A Love Before Time from the movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. In the eyes of many, Coco Lee was always a cheerful and lovely person. Thus, her sudden departure is challenging for both celebrities and fans to accept.

On her Weibo, Coco Lee’s pinned post featured her latest single “Battle Hymn,” accompanied by a message that encouraged and motivated others.

An audio clip, circulating online for about 40 seconds, was claimed to be her last message to fans. If true, it indicates that even in her darkest moment, she persevered and told herself and everyone, “I will keep trying.” Surely, she wanted to fight on.

However, this time, she couldn’t rise again. For years, the invisible killer called “depression” had quietly hidden within her radiant smile, powerful voice, and cheerful personality, well-concealed but unable to break free.

Depression is not an unknown condition, but the refusal to face it, the stigma, rejection, and various misconceptions surrounding it continue to persist. Mr Alex Ng Wei Siong revealed that depression itself is not terrifying; it is our indifference that is truly frightening.

Is depression difficult to detect? When should one seek professional help?

Depression is not difficult to detect. If you feel overwhelmed by stress, it’s time to consider seeking help. Even if someone around you complains about being under great pressure, it can be a sign. Don’t think that “everyone experiences stress” and trivialise it. Take it seriously.

Pay special attention to the following 7 signs:

  1. “I have thoughts of dying: Feeling that life has reached a dead end without any reason is a dangerous warning sign.
  2. Lack of desire and expectations for the world: Losing interest and expectations for anything, including things you used to enjoy.
  3. Letting go or entrusting loved ones: Handing over beloved things, like pets, to others for care, as if preparing for the end and entrusting cherished ones to others.
  4. Detachment from surroundings: Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy, avoiding social interactions, and preferring to isolate oneself in personal space, refusing communication.
  5. Crying without a clear reason: Crying excessively without a specific cause, lasting for months or longer.
  6. Irritability and anger: Similar to crying, long-term emotional suppression can lead to frequent anger outbursts, making it difficult to get along with others.
  7. Insomnia: Often overlooked, but irregular sleep patterns can disrupt melatonin secretion, affecting both physical and mental health.

Subang Jaya Medical Centre’s Clinical Psychologist and Counsellor, Mr. Alex Ng Wei Siong, highlights that even a small complaint can be beneficial for the patient if someone is willing to listen and show care.

Does “smiling depression really exist?

“Smiling depression” is not a clinically diagnosed term; it’s a more colloquial expression. It often occurs in highly educated and successful white-collar professionals. Due to the need to maintain “work, face, etiquette, dignity, and responsibilities,” they wear smiles most of the time, concealing their true feelings. Over time, this burden leads to depression.

People with smiling depression usually don’t have apparent social difficulties. They may fear that mental illness is shameful and feel a great deal of shame, which can affect their lives. So, they use a smile as a shield, appearing confident and capable to deceive others, even though they may feel lost, painful, and even suicidal inside. They present a facade of being fine, but underneath, they are filled with sadness, self-reproach, and despair for the future.

Moreover, many patients with this condition have misconceptions about the illness, which hinders timely treatment.

The higher the resilience, the higher the risk of depression?

The distinction of high or low resilience is quite abstract. Labeling someone’s ability to cope with stress as high or low can be a misconception related to depression. People, including the patient themselves, may mistakenly believe they should “tough it out.” However, even a small complaint, if someone is willing to listen and show care, can be helpful for the patient.

Can depression be cured? Is seeing a doctor or taking medication necessary?

Depression is like the common cold or diabetes. A cold can be treated with medicine, but it may recur. Diabetes can be managed through medication or lifestyle changes for mild cases. Depression also has a chance of relapse, but lifestyle changes such as exercise, diet, and medication can help.

As for whether to see a doctor and take medication, at the initial stage, counseling from a counsellor or assistance from a clinical psychologist can be sought. Professionals will assess the patient’s condition and refer them to a psychologist. But regardless of whom you seek help from initially, trained professionals will provide advice based on the patient’s situation.

Depression has a chance of relapse, but lifestyle changes such as exercise, diet, and medication can help.

How can friends and family assist someone with depression?

Being there for them and listening are the best forms of assistance. Show concern for their needs, even if it’s just doing small things like pouring a glass of water. Feeling loved and cared for is the most beneficial support.

Finding someone who will listen and offer positive advice, or having a pet as a companion, can be crucial in helping the patient through difficult times. People around them should maintain a positive attitude, saying encouraging words, doing good deeds, and avoiding ridicule or negative thoughts.

How to reduce the negative impact of celebrity suicides on society?

The media should avoid sensationalising, creating heroes, or reporting the cause of death in detail to prevent imitation.

Psychologically, suicide behaviour modelled after a well-known suicide method or a specific person’s suicide is known as the “Werther effect.” For those teetering on the edge emotionally and behaviourally, they may hesitate for a long time, lacking the courage to act. The “Werther effect” encourages them to take that final step.

The “Werther effect” is not limited to traditional media; it has also spread to social media. When individuals at risk see suicide-related news from newspapers, TV, or social media, the effect is the same.

What should those left behind do if their loved ones tragically die by suicide?

Many people think that ending their own life means cutting off ties with the world and causing no further harm. However, it actually inflicts great pain on those around them. Those left behind should not blame themselves or negate their efforts, assuming they could have prevented the tragedy. Otherwise, they might fall into secondary depression themselves. They should be attentive to their own mental and physical well-being, understanding that the world still needs to go on and they must face the grief.

Others should also avoid excessive inquiries under the pretense of “caring.” Finding the right balance in showing concern is a form of help.

(Note: On July 7, Coco Lee’s elder sister, Nancy Lee, denied that Coco committed suicide by cutting her wrists. The cause of death is still awaiting autopsy reports. This article focuses on raising awareness about depression and is not aimed at addressing the specific circumstances of Coco Lee’s passing.)

Read the full article on The Interview.