How many times does it happen? A well-known personality commits suicide, people go crazy on social media, condolences pour in for the family of the deceased, articles are published on the issue of mental health, then within a week something more exciting or controversial emerges and everyone’s attention is diverted. People have a really short attention span these days. There are so many issues and controversies surrounding us. We get so many notifications in a day that nothing can linger for a long duration. We come across so many gruesome stories and visuals that the news of someone getting depressed and committing suicide doesn’t bother us beyond a day or two.
Life goes on and we forget everything too soon. That the news of Sushant Singh Rajput’s unfortunate demise was able to shake our conscience and kept us disturbed for two days stems from a simple fact- we knew him. He was a celebrity after all, a good actor by all standards and always full of energy. His portrayal of the captain of the Indian Cricket team, in the biopic MS Dhoni made people and especially youngsters relate with him even more. Yet, it is within a matter of a week that we will all forget about the incident. It doesn’t really matter now, as to what was bothering him and why did he take such an extreme step. What matters is that such incidents are noticed only when they reoccur.
We will hardly witness a constructive public debate over matters of mental health, depression, and psychological well being amidst the cacophony of media’s conspiracy theories about Sushant’s demise and useless verbal brawls that take place in newsrooms. No one will ask the right questions, forget about finding the right solution.
Now try to contrast this with the plight of a farmer in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region. Every year, hundreds of farmers commit suicide due to indebtedness, aggravated by the agrarian crisis. We don’t know the name of a single deceased farmer. It only makes sense that suicide by the members of the bottom-most rung of the society, hardly even makes a news item. Who cares? When you have the number of suicides running into thousands at an all India level, it is mere statistics. The numbers will get featured in many reports analyzing India’s agrarian crisis. However, once again, there won’t be a sound public debate around the factors that lead our farmers to take such an extreme measure.
That a Bollywood celebrity and an indebted farmer are on the opposite ends of the societal hierarchy and yet sitting so close in the continuum of the myriad reasons that cause the death of a person is a striking reality. What is even more striking is that it doesn’t really matter whether the person is a Sushant or a marginal farmer from a remote village of Maharashtra. People tend to forget both, the former- a little late but the later almost immediately.
All of this brings us to a conclusion that is difficult to ingest. Mental health and psychological well being are esoteric subjects. Moreover, in a country where the line between a person in need of psychiatric support and a person declared ‘mad’ is very thin, the sick would prefer crying in solitude than come out seeking support. That people can be mentally sick is a reality that the majority of India’s populace is oblivious to. There are very few amongst us who possess the emotional intelligence to identify people in dire need of support. There are even fewer who can simply lend ears to the people in need rather than being didactic. When confronted with a situation that cries out for empathy and support, we become preachers and don’t even shy away from ridiculing the person who has mustered the courage to speak up.
It becomes even more profound while dealing with men. Men don’t cry after all. They are supposed to be tough and mentally agile. A crying man would be effeminate by our societal standards of ‘manhood’. It makes the situation even worse for the sick. Sharing the state of mental agony becomes even more difficult. The deadly cocktail of depression, shame, and fear smother the emotions of the person and he takes a step that ends with death.
This calls out for a massive behavioral change.
Firstly, we need to accept the fact that like any other physical illness, mental illness is a reality and highly prevalent, albeit to different extents.
Secondly, we need to communicate more. We have to come out from the virtual world and speak with each other, directly and face to face. We have to understand that as individuals, we can’t be all for our own-selves. We are dependent on each other, for one need or the other. Of all those, there is nothing more important than the need for emotional support. That we can understand each others’ emotions and respond with a commensurate emotional language, is what makes us human.
Thirdly, there is an imperative to create more awareness about mental health issues. From school kids to college students, from corporate workers to housewives and from farmers to Bollywood celebrities, all must acknowledge and fully understand that even the most healthy-looking people can be critically ill mentally.
Fourthly, people have to be taught the way to take care of themselves and the people around them. When someone falls sick in our family, we take such good care of that person. We ensure timely checkups, tests, medicines, and food. We also ensure that we don’t fall sick by doing exercise or regular morning jogs, all of this to ensure physical health and fitness.
But when it comes to mental health, we hit a blind spot. We don’t know how to soothe a student who has just failed an examination, how to express our empathy and support to a person who might be too bogged down by work pressure or how to just listen to a housewife who might be fed up by the constant bickering of her in-laws against her. Only if we learn to do these simple things and create a culture of openness, many unfortunate incidents can be avoided. And finally, we must also learn to tackle failures and pressure.
Throughout our lives, we are told to prepare for success. We hardly get any lesson in managing failures. What if I fail an examination? What if I lose all my money? What if I don’t pay back my debts. What if I don’t deliver a project that my boss wanted to? Unfortunately, we are hardly prepared to face these tough situations. They are all an afterthought for most of us. We become ostriches when confronted with these questions, dodging them in whichever way possible. We need to be schooled to face tough situations.
What happened with Sushant Singh Rajput and many like him, is really sad and unfortunate. However, a sound and reasoned public debate would go a long way in ensuring that we develop a nurturing and supportive environment around people in need. Let us not make their untimely departure from the earthly abode merely a news item that gets relegated to the margins of our short-lived memories.
You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realise this, you will find strength! – Markus Aurelius