Sushant Singh Rajput and Mental Health in India
Trigger warning: suicide, death
One in every seven Indians is affected by a mental disorder, but India is a country that doesn’t really like to talk about it. It’s called the suicide capital of the world but you’ll still hear aunties claiming that “this depression and all only happens in America.” The general Indian public has an extremely convoluted idea of what depression is and what it looks like, a misconception that comes to light every time suicide is remotely publicized.
His death initiated a dialogue about mental health that was immediately forgotten.
Back in June, well known Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput was found dead in his home. It was ruled as a suicide and to say the least, the public didn’t know how to react. Rajput was a successful young man who seemed to have everything going for him. But when it was revealed that he had been seeking treatment for depression for months, people were stumped. What reason could such a person have to be depressed?
People were quick to point fingers at the rampant nepotism in the film industry, with actress Kangana Ranaut claiming in a video statement that the “Bollywood mafia” had ganged up against Rajput and imposed an unwritten ban on him. She called it a “systematic dismantling of a fragile mind,” a sentiment that many others seemed to share as well. Nepotism is a notorious problem in Bollywood, with star kids always being the next big thing, but there was never any evidence connecting it to Rajput and his death. It was as if people were willing to make anything except his own mind the killer. No one cared to address how his “fragile mind” had actually become fragile.
In the past few weeks, conspiracies have come out about the actor’s abrupt death and many now believe that it was murder rather than a suicide, with a case being filed by his family against his ex-girlfriend. #JusticeforSushant has blown up nationwide and many feel justified in their beliefs that it couldn’t have been a suicide because he wasn’t “that kind of person.” I’m not saying it was a suicide and I’m not saying it was a murder, but his death initiated a dialogue about mental health that was immediately forgotten. The public reaction to even just the possibility of it being a suicide tells us a lot about the misrepresentation and stigma of mental illnesses in India.
Depression is a big word.
Sushant Singh Rajput’s death has shown that people still don’t take depression seriously. His ex-girlfriend was quoted saying, “Sushant was not the kind of guy who will get into depression. He was not somebody who will commit suicide because he is sad.” She said that it was “heartbreaking” when “things like depression” were used after his name. “He could be upset about a few things. We all get anxious, he could be anxious. But depression is a big word.”
Depression is a big word. It’s a serious mental illness that affects and takes the lives of millions of Indians. It’s not heartbreaking for people to say others have depression, it’s heartbreaking that they have depression and nothing is done about it. Every hour, an Indian student commits suicide but there’s still a shortage of mental health professionals in the country. Considering the prevalence of mental health problems in Indian society, there is a disproportionate lack of concern for the same. How many lives must be lost before we begin to take mental health seriously?
What “kind of person” must one be to have depression? Presumably, they mean someone who is struggling with everyday life all alone. Little do they realise that depression makes someone into that kind of person; there’s no characteristics that qualify someone for depression. Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain, an illness not an emotion. You could have the funniest and happiest job and still have depression, much like standup comedian Sahil Shah describes in his article.
Depression isn’t a joke or a trend and we need to stop acting like it is.
Depression and sadness are vastly different things. That movie you watched didn’t make you ‘depressed’- it made you sad. The distinction between the two keeps getting blurred and all it does is more harm. If everyone around you is joking about being depressed, how are you going to be able to realise when someone is being serious? ‘Dark humour’ and blatant disrespect are rarely mutually exclusive. Depression isn’t a joke or a trend and we need to stop acting like it is. It’s time we leave trivialisation of mental health struggles in the past and this includes all that Bollywood misrepresentation (specifically directed at Anjaana Anjaani), which warrants a whole other article.
Public misrepresentation of mental illnesses in general isn’t uncommon. The other day, a friend sent me a tweet from an Indian politician of reasons he thought Rajput had been murdered. Apparently the actor had been playing video games that morning, a sign that he “surely was in a positive mood.” People seem to forget that people with depression are still people, people who eat and sleep and sometimes, even play video games. Who are we to police the behaviour of someone who is depressed to suit our misconceptions? In the same way, people with depression can still think about getting married or other future plans, suicide isn’t an endgoal and it’s disrespectful to assume so.
Isn’t it our responsibility to carry some of that weight if we can?
I don’t know the truth about Sushant Singh Rajput’s death and I don’t particularly care for it; all I hope is that he rests in peace. If he was struggling from depression, I’m sorry that he didn’t think there was another way. We may never know what happened to him, but we do know what is happening right now to millions in our country and across the world. Shouldn’t we try and do something to help them instead of just mindlessly gossiping? Let’s use this as a sign for us to better ourselves as a society.
Depression is a big word, only ten letters long, but carrying with it the misconceptions of some and the lives of others, it’s a heavy load. Isn’t it our responsibility to carry some of that weight if we can? Even a little can go a long way. Research about mental health. Educate others. Reach out to the people you care about. Normalise talking about your emotions. I’m sure that’s what he would want as well.
[If you’re ever feeling like there’s no hope, I once read somewhere that the night gets darkest right before the sun comes out. Here are some numbers you can call to find someone to talk to. Stay strong!]