It was just a week ago - on June 14, Sunday- that India woke up to the shocking news of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide. Media reports suggested that the 34-year-old was clinically depressed, which may have led to him taking his life. It sparked a conversation on the need to fight social stigma on mental illness and spread awareness on mental health issues.
Yet, social media was also flooded with many calling his suicide an act of ‘cowardice’ and ‘selfishness,’ and blaming the actor for his final act.
Also, the actor’s fans as well as many prominent personalities, including actress Kangana Ranaut, blamed nepotism in Bollywood – which denied chances to those (like Sushant) without film-backgrounds – for his suicide. In no time, the narrative around the suicide was made into one about Bollywood’s internal politics and powerplays, and the conversations on mental health ended up taking a backseat.
And it is precisely this trend that has to stop.
Celebrity status of the deceased makes it easier to make even a tragedy controversial. But as Bengaluru-based psychotherapist Ananya Saikia, who studied Psychology at Harvard University, puts it, suicide has very little to do with the industry and everything to do with the individual. She points to the suicide of VG Siddhartha, founder and MD of Café Coffee Day, (last year) as well as farmer suicides in India over the years, urging not to stigmatise any industry, as reasons for suicide are unique to each individual.
According to Ananya, people across socio-economic divisions, gender, race, community - all have the same basic problems. “Human mind is good at problem solving; sometimes life becomes the problem and the mind’s solution is to end your life. It is an evolutionary tactic from a psychological standpoint. What matters is whether you have the conscious awareness to ask yourself if you should listen to this solution or not,” she explains.
Before the final step
It is a universal truth that every human being faces problems and feels hopeless at times. But suicide is the final step after suffering for really long, Ananya says, when you reach a point where it is the best solution your mind can offer.
Help from a mental health professional is essential when one cannot manage the anguish anymore. However, awareness on these facts are so little in India that seeking help for mental health is still frowned upon. Calling suicide a cowardly, selfish act is “destructive criticism” – as you're shamed into not thinking about suicide – according to Ananya.
“If someone close to you has been depressed, that person would be scared to talk to you about it if he/she knows that you are very judgmental about it. But what you need to do is the exact opposite - creating safe spaces in everyday conversations rather than shame them,” she adds.
Mentioning the reports that the deceased actor had friends present at his house on the fateful day, Ananya reiterates that even with friends, it’s hard to have such open conversations. “Any conversations about feelings and emotions are highly stigmatized in a world where you're always supposed to be practical, ambitious, and your career decides your success. It is not after someone has lost their life that we need to have these conversations; this is an integral part of everyday life,” she says.
Most obituaries for the deceased actor had also stated that he was an extremely intelligent person, with deep knowledge and interest in advanced sciences. While one’s IQ cannot be directly linked to mental health issues, Ananya opines that individuals who are looked upon as smart tend to have relatively more discomfort seeking help.
“They tend to problem-solve too much themselves and not reveal to anyone that they are suffering, because the internal construct of shame can be really huge,” Ananya tells MAKERS India, adding, “We can never know what he (Sushant) was suffering. Our sufferings are unique to our individual experiences.”
Nearly 8,00,000 people die by suicide every year, a majority of which are caused by mental health issues, according to data from the World Health Organisation (WHO). It is never too early to seek help from professionals; and it is never too early to extend help to those who are suffering. If you or someone you know is struggling emotionally or having a hard time, reach out to 022 2754 6669. Or visit http://www.aasra.info/helpline.html to find a helpline number nearest to you.
Reach out, talk, communicate, for there is no shame in seeking help.