“I will survive this night, its deathly design ;
I will fight!
The world’s a snake pit, so let it be!
I dare the devil to get the better of me!”
Actor Deepti Naval
posted this poem on June 15 evening, a little more than 24 hours after news broke that Hindi film actor
Sushant Singh Rajput
, had died by suicide. The poem had been written by her on the night of July 28, 1991 and hinted at a dark phase in Naval's life. “I loved my life. I knew I didn't want to end it but that phase was very difficult. I felt things were collapsing personally and professionally,” she says. She battled with
for nearly five years but succeeded in beating it eventually.
Rajput's death triggered her to speak about her own journey. “I want people to know that there is a way to overcome bouts of depression and anxiety. When I used to feel low, I would pop my
workout cassette, listen to music or just start singing. Anything to get my mind off these thoughts,” she says.
Mental health is a stigmatised issue in our country with a perception that people who die by suicide or who suffer from depression are at best, mentally weak or at worst making excuses for their laziness and seeking attention. A recent WHO report ranked India as the most depressed country in the world, leaving USA and China behind. However, many like Naval, are breaking taboos by talking about depression.
When actor Deepika Padukone spoke about her battle with depression some years back, she was the only one. In the last week celebrities like Shamita Shetty, stand-up comic Danish Sait and Congress leader
have used public platforms to speak up about their struggles with mental health which included first realising what was happening to them and then reaching out for help. Psychiatrist and director for the Centre for Mental Health Law and Policy Dr Soumitra Pathare says it is a positive sign that people are sharing personal stories openly. “There is a willingness to take on stigma,” he says, “It has been a challenge for many years but we can sense that there is a change.”
Often the first symptoms are seen as signs of stress or seeking attention. Data researcher Devesh Kumar remembers dismissing panic attacks for almost a year thinking it was work-pressure. In April 2018, he suffered an attack after the death of a family member. “
He was diagnosed with depression, but it took sometime for his parents to take this seriously. Since then the 29-year-old has tried both therapy and medication. “
The lack of conversation around the topic makes seeking help difficult. Many people fear losing friends and family if they found out about their 'illness.' For 24-year-old Seher Raza taunts and insults thrown by neighbours, acquaintances, friends and others around her would act like knives to her heart. “People call you 'pagal' (crazy), say bahut chilati hai (screams a lot), why are you causing so much pain to your parents? These comments hurt so much because I was really trying hard to control my reactions. I understood later after medication and therapy that the instances of violence or self-harm that I was going through was not my fault, it was a chemical imbalance in my brain. But such comments make it worse,” she says. Raza was diagnosed with
borderline personality disorder
after she tried to harm herself in 2014. She has since struggled with feelings of abandonment and loneliness.
However, Raza pushed the criticism aside and
Bureaucrat and author of a book on depression, 'The D word: A Survivor's Guide to Depression' Shubhrata Prakash
Inspired Rajasthan based Congress politician Rukshmani Kumari, too posted a picture of herself with a similar post, “This is the face of a person who has survived #depression and #AnxietyDisorder. These do not define me. Amongst the many roles I play in life, I am a business woman, I am also an active politician. Depression and anxiety are disorders, not weakness of character. I am not ashamed.” Speaking about the decision to go public, Kumari says, “We are influencers. As a politician and social worker I feel that if I can be a source of motivation for people I would have done my job.” Kumari hit the low end in 2011 after the death of her husband. “I was only 32 and had a conservative upbringing. Widows in Rajasthan were also expected to follow restrictions in clothes and lifestyle which plunged me deeper into depression. But I had my family's support and slowly with their help I was able to get out of that phase of my life which lasted for two years,” she recalls.