SEOUL — Leading South Korean K-pop singer and actress Sulli was found dead in her house south of the capital on Monday in what police said may have been suicide.

The 25-year-old started her career as a child actress in 2005 and later joined a girl group as a teenager, before announcing she was quitting the entertainment industry in 2014. She said then that she was mentally and physically exhausted after suffering from malicious comments and false rumors online. She formally left her band the following year to resume an acting career.

Last year, she took the rare step of speaking out about her mental health issues, saying she had suffered from panic disorder since she was young and also had social phobia.

If she is found to have taken her own life, it would highlight the huge pressures on K-pop stars exerted by exploitative management companies and demanding fans and the lack of mental health support.

South Korean music star Sulli was suffering from severe depression before her suspected suicide. Her passing puts a focus on cyber bullying. (Reuters)

The star, whose legal name is Choi Jin-ri, was found dead by her agent on Monday afternoon in a two-story house in Seongnam. 

A note believed to have been written by Choi has been found at the house, which described her state of mind but was not a suicide note, according to the police.

“Choi seemed to have lived alone in the house, and no signs of a struggle or forced entry has been identified to suggest homicide,” said Kim Seong-taek of Seongnam Sujeong Police Department. But Kim said police had not concluded it was definitely a suicide and continued to investigate the case. 

Sulli challenged the notions on how a female Kpop star should behave, but she suffered massively as a result. 

She was viciously attacked online in 2014 after paparazzi photos revealed she was dating an older rapper. In a rare move, she later publicly acknowledged the couple’s relationship. K-pop stars usually face pressure not to date because it can disillusion their fans and undermine their career.

She would also often appear without a bra, saying she felt more comfortable without one, something that some Korean women found liberating but others savagely criticized. 

In June, she became a co-host of a TV show entitled “The Night of Hate Comments,” in which celebrity guests discussed their reactions to hateful comments, malicious rumors and cyberbullying. 

Yonhap news agency said Choi had suffered criticism and drawn support for what it called her “bold and carefree character.”

“Even close people left me,” Choi said in an Instagram video posted last year. “I was hurt by them and felt there was nobody who understands me, which made me fall apart.”