The demise of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput has left the country in shock. As usual, a celebrity’s death has become a subject of ‘tragedy porn’ to feed TRP hungry media. With headlines like “Sushant ka Mann Aakhir itna ashant kyun tha?” to “dekhiye aaj raat 9 baje, Sushant ki murder mystery”, mainstream media has stooped to a new low. His death is being subjected to unwarranted scrutiny with news channel reporters dig out every single detail of his life, from his financial condition to his relationships.
This callous attitude while covering his death is symptomatic of a general social attitude towards mental health conditions. Mental Health conditions like Depression often come with a social burden of stigmatisation of a Mental Health Warrior (hereafter referred to as, MHW). Being an MHW myself, I have experienced people failing to empathise with me, in the real sense of the word. Instead, their approach is that of sympathy for the person suffering. This sympathy is based on their perceived notions and stereotypes. These notions are shaped by the popular media and cinema, which shows Depression as “Sadma”(Trauma) or something about sheer sadness.
Also, the dominant impression that these platforms portray when it comes to an MHW is either of a perpetually sad person or that of a hysterical person who shows unpredictable behaviour and lack of self-restraint. Consequently, the grim reality is that individuals with such issues end up being “socially distanced” and alienated.
This alienation can occur in the form of people complaining about “negative vibes” from a person suffering from mental health issues or even in terms of general condescension towards them by the usage of patronising language, for instance, saying something like ‘your condition is not so bad’, ‘there is nothing wrong with you, you are just overthinking this’ etc.
Very often, this kind of perception by the people stems from the notion that an MHW has reduced mental faculties and cannot comprehend things. Such experiences for an MHW are dehumanising and might have dangerous consequences in the form of being gas-lit or further deterioration of mental health condition.
How to be an ally?
Firstly, we, as a society, need to know that issues related to mental health can be quite nuanced and often “friendly” counselling without proper training is not the wisest thing to do and might turn out to be counter-productive. Instead, one could help by being a good listener. A person suffering from some underlying mental health condition like Depression mostly needs someone to hear them out without being critical of it or trying to solve ‘the problem’.
Secondly, we need to understand that Mental Health issues like Depression are not necessarily a consequence of some significant failure in any facet of life. There can be one or more than one psychosocial or biological factor behind it which leads to a chemical change in the brain that triggers a depressive episode in a person. Personal tragedy is not always the reason, and mere speculations about it would be of no real help.
Finally, one should not underestimate the power of words when we talk of social support. One such word can be “Depression” itself which sadly gets thrown around in a dangerously casual manner. It has been used for describing anything from generic sadness to Alcoholism. Even the choice of words by Indian media while reporting Sushant Singh Rajput’s tragic death is highly reprehensible and unethical. Not only it is reductionist and desensitises the public but also is a grave social injustice to Mental Health warriors.
There have been studies in the past, which shows the relationship between a celebrity’s death and a spike in suicide cases. And this can be further exacerbated by irresponsible reporting that we have seen in this case. Even the phrases used to describe suicide are castigating in nature. A sentence like “committed suicide” in itself deserves to be frowned upon because it reduces suicide to a “sin “or a “crime”, which is nothing but victim-blaming. Another occasion where we need to pay attention is while empathizing with an MHW. Using sentences like, “I am there with you in this”, I understand”, You are an influential person” can be helpful.
There are multiple obstacles in the path of an MHW that inhibit them from seeking the required help. In a lot of areas in our country, there is a complete absence of mental health professionals. Even where mental health facilities are present, the stigma associated with mental health conditions is too immense for people to seek help. Social factors like gender roles, especially hamper men, from seeking help. Often after visiting the doctor, people discontinue medical treatments that are prescribed in chronic or acute cases as there is another stigma associated with mental health medication.
In this scenario, encouraging MHW to seek professional help becomes very important. Additionally, we, as a society, need to start an open conversation regarding mental health issues, to educate ourselves and remove the stigma around the issues. We also need to understand that mental health issues exhibit themselves in various forms, from ADHD to chronic Depression, from social anxiety to schizophrenia. Naturally, the needs of individuals suffering from them vary. These nuances need to be understood, and we, as a society, need to be mindful of them while interacting with the MHW. Empathy and de-stigmatisation.