The unfortunate and tragic demise of Sushant Singh Rajput reignited the mental health conversation in India soon after it was disclosed that he was battling depression. Within hours social media was flooded with well-intentioned posts on the necessity to talk and listen. A number of people reached out via WhatsApp to convey their availability and willingness to hear and help those fighting mental illness. On the surface, all of this is a welcome change because it brings, an otherwise taboo topic like mental health, to the forefront and a part of dinner table conversations across homes.
The problem, however, is as innocent as it may seem, we are not equipped to help those battling a serious issue. Yes, it is important to talk and to listen, to be there for friends and family who open up and share their thoughts with you but unless you’re a trained psychologist or a therapist chances are you won’t know what to say.
More often than not what we say, even if it comes from a place of concern or well-wishing, can act as a trigger leaving the person suffering feeling misunderstood and inadequate. “Don’t be sad” or “I understand” or “It’ll all be okay” might seem like appropriate answers to you but will not go a long way in making them feel better. You cannot possibly ‘understand’ what this person is going through unless you’ve faced a similar battle and no you don’t know if and when it will all be okay.
Also, nobody willingly sets out to be ‘sad’ and if they could, they wouldn’t be in the first place. The words we choose play a paramount role in how a person feels about opening up, so we must choose them very carefully or leave the talking to the expert. It’s important to convey to people that you are there for them, without judgement.
Perhaps the more appropriate things to say is “I’m here for you”, “How can I help”, “Is there anything you need,?” and “You must seek help if you feel ready”.
As friends and loved ones, what we can and must do is encourage them to seek professional help and that is where the real challenge lies. Making ‘seeing a therapist’ be as acceptable and as routine as seeing a doctor would be for persistent fever. Generations before us were conditioned to suppress their emotions and desires for the sake of society often resulting in people living unhappy and unfulfilled lives.
Traumatic events or incidents they may have encountered were left buried in their brains since the concept of grief counselling or treatment for PTSD was virtually non-existent and don’t seem to be very popular today either. Emotional and Verbal abuse is rampant and so internalized that it gets spoken about rarely. Prescription medicine for mental health illnesses is masked as multivitamins by patients who do not want to incur the shame that being on these pills could bring. Someone taking antidepressants should be only treated like someone taking antibiotics would be.
With superstars like Deepika Padukone candidly speaking about her battle with depression and Shahrukh Khan and Alia Bhat doing the heartwarming film ‘Dear Zindagi’ where he plays her ‘life coach/therapist’, mental health is taking small steps to becoming mainstream. While things seemed to have moved in a positive direction to this effect, we as a society, still have a long way to go.