There isn’t a single day that passes by without me coming across a chain Facebook post about how someone is listening if you need a person to talk to. Suicide has become a topic that everyone now seems to have an opinion about. One would think that this is for the better as finally mental health is being discussed openly in a country where your family would rather have you suffer in silence than have their family name associated with the stigma of mental illness.
Last Sunday, on September 3, 2017, an article was published in HT City about the recent epidemic – The Blue Whale Challenge. It is a ‘game’ that challenges users to different levels of self-harm leading them to the final step, which is to end their lives. If they don’t go through the last level, the cyber trolls threaten to attack the victim’s family.
I had followed the column for years, enjoying every bit of the writer’s humorous take on ordinary life situations. So when I read this piece, I felt a sense of betrayal at how insensitive the whole thing sounded. One-third of the article was directed towards teachers and parents of depressed teenagers and mostly just asked them to keep a look out for any early signs that showed that their child might be ‘playing’ the game. The article also asked them to ensure that the children knew that they were there for them if they needed someone to talk to.
It was the last part of the article, which left some of the readers extremely worried. The columnist of ‘A Calmer You’ assumed that the best way to stop young people from taking any drastic steps was to tell them, “Tum toh aa jao samne thappad khane (I wish to slap you).” While one can argue that it’s just the kind of humour Sonal Kalra uses in all of her articles that mostly deal with her annoying neighbours, people who ruin a good joke among other things, perhaps she should have chosen a different method to reach out to her young readers.
She also called suicidal teens ‘foolish’ and ‘cowards’ in the first part of the article, for taking a short-cut when life is unfair. “What’s so brave about picking up a blade and cutting yourself? Koi bhi kar sakta hai (anyone can do it).” I don’t understand how she assumed this was the right way to talk about self-harm. None of the people suffering from depression self-harm because they think they are brave. Neither are they doing it for attention. I wish she tried to see the world through the eyes of someone who’s suffering. But that’s the thing about mental illness. You can’t know what it is like until you’ve been there.
Kalra then equates depression with stupidity and asks children who play this because of depression to get treated for their ‘stupid’ behaviour. Her parting words? “Go chill.”
What I do not understand is how she can tell the parents and teachers to be compassionate and then think it is okay to use words like ‘fool’, ‘stupid’ and ‘coward’ while addressing children who are suffering from crippling depression. The game isn’t the reason children are depressed; they didn’t just decide to play a suicide game because they were curious. They did it because they were already suffering from depression. The game was just like any other means of ending one’s life! The game is the problem, the situations that lead to children feeling this way are the problems, not the victims themselves.
Initially, I wrote an angry post on my Facebook profile about how she should have been fired for letting this insensitive piece pass. As someone who had followed her work for years, I expected more tact from the chief editor of a daily. I have been through times in my life when I knew nothing but self-destruction. So to get ‘triggered’ was a natural response and the post wasn’t me being hyper sensitive. I later commented on her page calling her out on the problematic wording, in the hope that she’d probably accept the problem with the article and be more careful with sensitive topics like these.
When asked if she could send out a clarification about how some things could have been worded better, Kalra responded by telling us about her work with adolescents and how she knew people who were victims of suicide. She also mentioned that three teens from different states had already written to her about how they had stopped self-harming after reading the article.
If it were so easy just to stop being self-destructive, we wouldn’t see multiple scars on a person’s arm. Also, while it’s fortunate that three kids (apparently) withdrew from self-harm after reading this, the ones who felt shamed for no fault of theirs after reading her column might not be here to tell their stories. Children suffering from mental illness need understanding, they need therapy and treatment. Not a thappad (slap).
HT team, we all expect better from you. We also hope your employees and editors do not resort to name calling readers calling out problematic articles like some did when a few of us reached out to the columnist.
Calling me out for being negative makes absolutely no sense. Because I would have cheered the loudest as a fan of Kalra if she had written an article about helping those in need instead of wanting to slap them. I fail to understand how wanting an apology for something like this can be considered vindictive or hateful on my part.
If you are someone who is feeling like there is no way out, please seek help. I know it can be extremely hard because so many people have told you to just get over it. You will be okay.
Call Aasra: 022-2754 6669