Trigger Warning : Suicide, Mental Health Stigmatization
Like every self respecting middle class Indian, I was first introduced to Sushant Singh Rajput on a lazy summer night (okay, I don’t remember if it was the summer or not, it has been more than a decade after all) on my tv screen, because my mom like every desi mom ever, had a penchant for watching soap operas while prepping for dinner. And like every self respecting teenager, I got bored with the storyline quickly because it was a mom show and not a youth show.
But then, he was doing dance reality shows and being fucking awesome all over my tv screen and it didn’t take long for me to develop a teensy weensy crush. I mean… That’s how it generally goes, right? He’s got that charming smile, the killer moves, the sunny disposition. You can’t help it. And I couldn’t either.
When SSR made it into the movies, I was proud. I hadn’t seen him act before, not really, but mad respect for someone who successfully transitioned from television to Bollywood, amirite? It was even better when he made movies I loved, because I got to see Sushant as an actor, beyond my admiration for him as a dancer (and a boyfriend. You fell for him after that sweet proposal on national tv too, don’t deny it.) and I realised… He was a fucking great actor too.
But that was it. That was all I knew about him. That he was a great actor and a great dancer, and once upon a time had been a great partner to his fiancee (they broke up in 2016/2017). I never really tried to know more, and that’s on me.
But, when he died by suicide last weekend, it was a wake up call. Not just for me, but for the entire nation. This great actor who had the seemingly perfect life – the career, the fame, the wealth, and if tabloids are to believed, the girl – had been hiding such a huge part of himself behind those gorgeous smiles (and his smile is one of the most gorgeous things in the world) that he threw around like candy. It showed us that even successful, rich, and famous people can be suffering. It showed us that it’s very easy to mask issues with a smile and no one will ever find out what you’re actually going through.
In the midst of news channels using it to gain TRPs, Bollywood moguls using it to perpetrate their own selfish agendas, twitterati sparking heated debates about nepotism in the film industry yet again, and people sharing photos on WhatsApp, Twitter, and Facebook, this also called to light, a serious discussion about mental health, even if it lasted 0.02 seconds.
Mental health is a very taboo subject in the Indian community. It is stigmatized to the point where any kind of mental illness and/or disorder is considered as “craziness” and is hidden from the world because log kya kahenge. We’ve grown up in a society where people think it’s okay to neglect the well being of their minds. As long as someone looks physically fit, they’re fit in every aspect of life.
People don’t treat the health of their minds with the same importance as the health of their bodies. People who speak about their mental illness are termed attention seeking. They’re told to meditate and eat better, sleep for 8 hours and cut back on work hours, as if that is all it takes for better mental health. I’m not denying that these things might help, but that’s not it, right?
Mental illness, like a physical illness, needs treatment. At times it needs medication. But people just forego that aspect. Going to a psychologist or a therapist is not advised, but people will talk behind others’ backs murmuring, “So and so person is in depression,” in hushed whispers, as if it is something to be ashamed of.
The complete stigmatization of mental illness and disorders, and lack of representation in media for people who have it, has made any discussion of mental health an evil in the society. It makes it extremely difficult for people to open up about their issues. They’re scared of not being taken seriously, being misunderstood, called an attention seeker, or worse, being told they don’t actually have any mental illness, that they’ve “barely scratched the surface” of it.
And it’s everyone who does it. Privileged, young people, who’re educated and have access to the internet, to so many resources that make it easy for them to educate themselves don’t do it either. When someone dies like Sushant did, they say they should be kinder to people, shouldn’t take things at face value, shouldn’t judge. But those same people will go into comments of other celebrities, those who they believe were somewhere responsible for the mental state that Sushant was in, and write hateful comments, so much so that actors who’ve never had their Instagram comments closed, end up doing it. So much that the siblings of these actors have to take to social media to explain that they’re grieving and can they please have some peace to cry?
These people who preach about mental health don’t understand mental health themselves, and they don’t like it when others try to do it either, instead trying to blame a hundred people. They share posts which say that Sushant’s ex fiancee, who he broke up with years ago, and who is now engaged to someone else, could have saved him, completely disregarding the mental health of that woman who is already going through a lot trying to grieve the man, and also respecting her new relationship, outright telling her it was her fault, cause if she’d been there, he wouldn’t have taken that step.
Saying someone can save someone else from something like this is… I actually don’t have words to describe how wrong and incorrect it is. No one should be burdened with that responsibility, irrespective of their relationship status. Even if they’d been together, and then this had happened, saying she could have saved him is wrong. It romanticizes mental illness. It’s definitely not how things work.
But, I digress. What’s important is, and what I’m trying to say is, that people who’re talking about mental health don’t fully understand mental health themselves. And yes, maybe they can go educate themselves on the internet, and that’s a very valid way of doing things. But, why are teenagers and 20-somethings so ignorant when it comes to mental health like this? It’s because they’ve never been taught about mental illnesses or disorders when they were kids. Because the Indian society doesn’t think it’s important to educate their children about this.
Which brings us back to square one, and the main reason why I’m writing this. Mental illness might be some sort of taboo in the Indian society, but it’s not something to be ashamed of. Mental disorders don’t make you “paagal” no matter what your ableist society says. The complete ostracization of these disorders, such as ADHD, autism etc, in our culture has made it so that people who have these disorders are the laughing stock of every joke. People keep their kids away from such people because they’re believed to be crazy and dangerous, which in turn can harm the mental health of such people. It is also the reason why people don’t acknowledge such disorders in their kids and don’t get them the care they need. It’s a very vicious circle, and society can be extremely cruel and unfeeling towards such people. Always has been. But, that’s definitely not how things should be.
Your mental health matters. And if you’re going through something, please speak up. Seek help, in any way you’re able to.
It’s not wrong to have a mental illness or a mental disorder. But, it is wrong to make it such that a person thinks it’s wrong to have one. Indians have very easily, as a society, written off mental health as something that’s not actually real, that it’s something that is alien and doesn’t really exist. At the core of it all, this is something that has hurt countless people, with others making fun of their struggles, calling them liars and attention seekers, advising them to keep quiet and suffer silently.
Mental health was always important, but it was never treated as such by anyone I know. Nobody in my immediate circle, be it family or friends, ever thought it was something to be taken seriously. Even after what happened last week, I see people all around me discounting what happened by reducing it to nepotism in Bollywood and moving away from the actual issue that needs our attention here – mental health.
It’s why there is such a serious need for people to educate themselves on what mental illnesses and disorders actually are, and for them to understand what it could do to people. It’s important that people suffering from these things not be outcast from society, that they’re given the support and understanding they need.
Mental health is not a taboo. It’s not something to be ashamed of. It doesn’t make a person “crazy”. You’re just as human with a mental illness as you are without it. Your mental health matters. It always did. I’m sorry you were made to feel otherwise.
I’ve tried my best to be sensitive and considerate in what I’ve written here, but if you think that what I’ve said is hurtful and/or harmful in anyway, please let me know. It’s important that I learn where I’m wrong.