The mental illness stigma
Talking about depression or for that matter, any mental illness, in any capacity, is major faux pas in India. Rather it is a cause célèbre, world over. Considering W.H.O. predicts that depression would be the most prevalent of epidemics in the coming years, it seems regressive of us. I can create an endless list of reasons why we do not converse upon this topic. Starting from the universal let’s-brush-it-under-the-rug moving onto just not-worthy-of-attention ending in the very sceptical you-need-a-doctor-for-that? #BlatantExcuses #NotReasons
To us, seeking professional help equates to being bat-shit-crazy. For the cornucopia of mental illnesses that fall in any other arena talk- to-your-friends or family applies. I agree they help, at times invaluably, but nothing can substitute a true professional. If you respectfully disagree, then why don’t you go consult a hack next time you have a debilitating pain. And I will use my prerogative to say sod off.
Depression and Bollywood
A statistical outlier. That’s what you are if you actually cop to suffering from any mental illness. And the few brave souls who do indeed come forward and speak forthrightly on the issue face criticism, scepticism and plain old bullying. With such examples, fear of revealing the truth paralyses our vocal cords, reduces the contents of our brains to a cauliflower and drives us to denial. So today we appreciate five such Bollywood veterans who came forth and spoke explicitly about mental illnesses they faced.
1. Parveen Babi
My introduction to the black world of depression was when actress Parveen Babi died and there was rampant speculation about the cause. She had been diagnosed both with ‘a severe case of depression’ and ‘paranoid schizophrenia’ long before her lonely death. Known as one of the most beautiful women Bollywood has ever seen, her demise made me realise even the bold and the beautiful suffer from heartbreaking issues. Maybe, if our society was more accepting of the different, then the stunning and vivid soul might not have died alone in her flat.
2. Manisha Koirala
While Parveen Babi cleared away my rose-tinted outlook, it was Manisha Koirala who made me realise that accepting and talking about depression is vital. A resplendent actress and a cancer survivor, she suffered from ‘acute clinical depression’. The 46-year-old artist, who never fails to evoke a feeling of serenity, used social media platforms to her benefit and opened up about depression. She was unabashed, vocal and candid about the phase of her life.
3. Yo Yo Honey Singh
A depressed person is not essentially gloomy, negative or crazy as hell. They are at times the people sitting right next to you or living across the street or creating the peppiest songs ever. Singer and rapper Hirdesh Singh better known by the moniker Yo Yo Honey Singh is a prime example. The man who tenaciously rocks the floor of every party, wedding and disc in India suffered from alcohol addiction and bipolar disorder. In his own words a man who “performed in front of a crowd of 20,000, (I) was scared of facing 4-5 people”. One of the highest paid music producers in our industry, Honey Singh took a year and a half long sabbatical while he battled with the disorder to finally emerge as a survivor last year.
4. Deepika Padukone
The reigning star of Bollywood who just broke her Hollywood virginity, Deepika Padukone, took talking about mental illnesses a step further. She gave exclusive interviews, she had candid conversations and then she founded Live Laugh Love. A centre for mental health that created the #DobaraPoocho Campaign, which urged people to ask non-consequential questions like ‘how are you?’ once again in the hopes that some nuance would alert you of a depressed person.
5. Shah Rukh Khan
Larger than life, this adage fits like a glove when it comes to Shah Rukh Khan. Yet, hearing that even the Baadshah of Bollywood suffered from depression make us pause. The superstar laid bare the root cause of his illness. Among it were the loss of parents and a chronically unwell sister. He did this in front of a thousand people. In the emotional tête-à-tête, he revealed that through acting he avoids depression. One doesn’t expect the ailment to strike such a vivacious personality. And hidden there is our learning, what we see may not be true, an individual suffering from depression need not be visually sad.
It is not a ‘phase’
Five of the biggest celebrities our nation has seen, all five suffered from the silent killer. They rose above the stigma and discrimination, battled valiantly and came through as victors. So, next time you come across another battle-weary soul, don’t think of it as a ‘phase’, mental illnesses don’t just-go-away. Don’t have gelatine where your spine should be. Find your chitin armour deep within you, wear it and stand strong for the sufferer.