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The Horrifying Truth This Movie Reveals About Depression

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This story is in response to Youth Ki Awaaz’s topic for this week – #LetsTalk to start a conversation on the stigma around depression. If you have an opinion or personal story of dealing with or helping someone else deal with depression or suicidal thoughts, write to us here.

In 2015, Deepika Padukone boldly spoke about her battle with depression. In the course of an interview, she mentioned that the stigma surrounding depression is so great in India that people often refuse to take treatment. A friend of mine agrees to this. She too used to suffer from severe depression, but didn’t opt for treatment due to the fear of social stigma.

Recently, I watched a movie called “Lights Out”, starring Teresa Palmer. As a horror flick, it has been quite successful and well-acclaimed.

The film has both been criticised and highly appreciated, particularly because it has attempted to blend social issues within the framework of a horror movie. However, I also think that there’s an underlying metaphor behind all the ‘horror cliches’ (in the film), which is largely unnoticed but also worth investigating.

The movie features a malevolent spirit named Diana, who appears in the dark. The only way to save oneself from Diana is to turn the lights on. This is an outright reference to how people prefer to stay in light after being scared of the ‘terrors in the dark’ (for example, watching a horror movie in complete darkness). 

Diana is a spirit that communicates with Sophie (played by Maria Bello). Sophie suffers from severe clinical depression and had been admitted to a mental hospital as a child. In her adult life, she relapses and Diana affects her more severely than ever before.

Sophie’s daughter, Rebecca (played by Teresa Palmer), has been living away from her mother due to her mother’s eccentricities. However, she comes back after her brother tells her about his near encounters with the spirit, due to which he cannot sleep. On the other hand, Sophie is convinced that Diana is her best friend and cannot think of ‘breaking up with her’. In fact, she intentionally lives in the dark to be close to Diana.

However, the malevolent Diana prevents Sophie from taking anti-depressants and constantly abuses her. Diana even chases Sophie’s children away and warns them of dire consequences, if they try to separate her from Sophie. In fact, Diana attacks all the characters in the movie, but Sophie (except when she tries to take anti-depressants, that is). However, her son, Martin (played by Gabriel Bateman), tells Rebecca that helping Sophie with her illness is the only to way to destroy Diana. Sophie thus needs the company and support of her two children, more than anything else.

“Lights Out” poster

It is quite obvious that Diana is a symbolic representation of depression in the movie. The movie therefore uses horror tropes to effectively show the lives of persons whose lives centre around depression.

While it may be exasperating, it is interesting to note that the taboos regarding depression lend potency to the ‘ghost-depression metaphor’ in the film. After all, Rebecca left her family because Diana took a toll on both Sophie and Martin.

In one of the scenes, Sophie tries to eccentrically convince Martin that Diana is her friend and therefore, she is going to live with them. Incidentally, Rebecca returns when Martin cannot bear Diana’s activities anymore. Thereafter, Sophie also breaks down into tears whenever Martin or Rebecca leaves her, and becomes visibly more depressed in Diana’s presence. The scary implication here is that Diana lives within Sophie.

In my opinion, even though the climax is controversial, it is also the most effective and significant bit of the film. It is understandable that people have issues with Sophie’s suicide at the end of the film. The major issue here is that some people think that the ending glorifies suicide as a means to end depression.

In fact, ‘think about your family’ is a common-enough statement used to stop suicidal people from killing themselves. However, a friend of mine who had once contemplated suicide said that thinking about one’s family is the last thing people contemplating suicide want to hear, because it increases their guilt and makes them want to die even more. Seen in this light, the climax of this film does not glorify suicide, at all. In fact, it becomes a scary indicator of how people suffering from depression ‘are forced’ to commit suicide.

Perhaps, Sophie was trying to save her children from being afflicted by Diana. However, she realises that apart from taking medication (which Diana wasn’t allowing her to), the only way to exorcise Diana was by sacrificing herself. In the process, she may have saved her children, but she also becomes a victim to her inner demons.

Rebecca too suffers from the spirit’s malevolence. However, unlike Sophie, Rebecca recognises her ability to fight Diana. Moreover, she doesn’t think twice about going back to save her mother and brother (having abandoned them previously).

At one point of the movie, when they were subdued by Diana, Martin asks Rebecca if they will be killed. Rebecca responds by saying that they shouldn’t give up because they are fighters. Rebecca inspires her brother to be brave in the face of crisis. On the other hand, Martin reminds Rebecca of their necessity to stay with Sophie, through thick and thin. In a nutshell, both show how depression should be dealt with – through support and by fighting back.

Similarly, Rebecca’s boyfriend Brett fights back Diana on two occasions by flashing light from a mobile phone and the headlights of a car.

Throughout the movie, ‘lights out’ symbolically represent the state of ‘depression’. On the other hand, ‘lights’ symbolise ‘happiness and positivity’ – something which Diana cannot endure.

Many have objected to the film’s use of a monster/malevolent spirit to represent a major mental illness. However, when closely analysed, it is quite apt. The key intention here is to scare. In fact, it is quite ‘scary’ to reflect on how Sophie suffers throughout the movie and then succumbs to her inner demons. On the other hand, Rebecca is an uplifting presence throughout. Her resolve to stand her ground, fight and stay back deserve special mention She will be there to fight, and she will be there to save whoever needs saving.

It is here that Rebecca’s decision to stay back with her brother to fight the malevolent Diana becomes significant and even inspirational. After all, this is what families should do – no matter how ‘scary’ and ‘depressing’ life turns out to be!

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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