On Sunday, India lost a beloved actor Sushant Singh Rajput, who died by suicide. A 34-year-old with budding talent and a promising future had found solace in taking such a drastic step. As viewers, we will never truly understand the hidden pain that lies behind these decisions. We were just exposed to his infectious smile and the “alluring” celebrity lifestyle that we thought he was living. It’s no doubt that his death is shocking, and while it is absolutely devastating, I believe his death has reopened a Pandora’s box that encapsulates India’s shocking attitude towards mental health.
For the month of May, I had published several posts about mental health for mental health awareness. While these posts were an attempt to ‘begin’ a conversation, I found myself sugarcoating too often or treading dangerous waters as I wasn’t exactly sure how viewers would perceive it. However, I won’t be holding back today and I do not care who reads this. As I write this, I feel incredibly angry and frustrated with how deep-rooted a stigma depression truly is in Indian society.
The discussions following Sushant’s passing or the way the media has sensationalized his death is truly disgusting. Honestly, shame on Indian media for circulating images of a young man’s body, and creating a mockery of the privacy his loved ones deserve. I understand the media’s responsibility for reporting a death – yet, I’ve failed to understand the lack of ‘trigger warning’ or the need to show graphic images of a young man. He’s not a museum piece. The media needs to take on a more sensitive approach to how they document these personal events. Moreover, rather than taking this time to utilize their platforms to spread awareness about mental health, it’s romanticized his death in a desperate attempt to see which news channel gets the quickest ‘insight’.
According to WHO, there are almost 56 million Indians suffering from depression, and 38 million with an anxiety disorder. The National Crime Records Bureau reports that over 300 Indians die by suicide daily. In the past couple of years, there has been a disturbing rise in individuals experiencing mental health issues. Yet, these ‘hushed’ conversations regarding depression or anxiety or other mental-health related issues continue. We need to normalize taking care of our mental health, and the idea of reaching out to external help such as therapists or psychiatrists.
Each time I’ve spoken out about these issues, I’ve noticed a significant fear or discomfort; a continual taboo that has never made sense to me. And, this only stems from a lack of mental health education. When we’re unexposed to something, it only creates a mindset that prevents us from lurking in unexplored territories. However, this shouldn’t be an unexplored territory when it concerns our mind, body, and soul. In a country that boasts about its progress, I’m confused about why we’re having such difficulty having a simple conversation about mental health. I’d like to know why we openly tell others of our physical injuries, yet whisper about how we feel.
We need to research and educate ourselves about mental health issues. Please have these difficult conversations with your loved ones; your parents, your children, or your friends. Raise awareness of mental health within your circles – and normalize talking about how we feel. Dealing with mental health issues is incredibly painful, and difficult – and when an individual feels alone, it can become an even bigger struggle. Please understand that this can be an invisible fight – it goes far beyond the quintessential understanding of “looking sad” or the blinded questioning of “why are they depressed? They have so much in their lives!.” Stop the comparative judgment – one’s problems do not suddenly become insignificant because someone else out there is having it worse. Mental health concerns are often viewed as a sign of weakness or something to be ashamed of, which is why many individuals refuse to speak out or receive the help they need.
If individuals are having a difficult time expressing their emotions, cultivate an environment where someone feels comfortable to open up to you. Be there for people, and most importantly, LISTEN. Often times, people step down to avoid this “altruistic responsibility” that comes along with supporting loved ones. So, where does the Indian hospitality (that we so proudly boast of) go when our loved ones need love and support? Please look past the empty smiles, and look deep within – ask people how they’re truly doing. Condolences don’t mean shit if someone passed away and you’ve done nothing but watch them fight a heavy battle by themselves.
So, please, understand what mental health is. If you know of someone who is dealing with mental health issues, be there for them. Be a listener. Don’t try to “fix” your loved ones. Validate their feelings. Do not try to be an investigator where YOU need to find out their triggers or the root causes of their problems – you’re not a professional. Do not put them in a position where they need to “prove” how depressed/anxious they really are. Avoid oversimplified advice and judgment. Remind them of their strength and their accomplishments. Remind them why they’re worthy of love, and how confident and strong they are/have been to deal with this. Allow them to feel comfortable and safe with the idea of opening up to others. If you’re a parent, please check in with your kids – don’t assume they’re absolutely fine because they put on a brave face at home or missaume they’re “too young to experience” anything. Continually check up on your loved ones – reach out to them and give them reassurance that you’re there to listen.
We need to do better, and we can do better.
*P.S The reason I’ve focused on the stigma within Indian societies is simply that I’m an Indian, and I want to focus on bettering the situation in my own country. I’m not blindsided by the stigma that exists all around the world, I am completely aware of it. I’m just choosing to bring urgent light to the situation present within our societies.