The headline read, ‘Exclusive! Alia Bhatt opens up about suffering from anxiety’, as if some government secret was finally being unleashed onto the world. The exclamation nearly mocking the reader for doubting the tone of the piece which was facetious at best in its attempt to feature an honest admission from one of the country’s leading actresses. Filmfare would accuse me of thinking too much, except I can’t control when my heart starts beating unnecessarily fast out of the blue and the world starts closing in, when my mind tumbles into a spiral so expansive that it might take me hours to put myself back together. I have known anxiety far too long to be offended when it’s somewhat trivialised in a national magazine.

Alia Bhatt is easily one of my favourite actresses, I can’t take my eyes away when she is on-screen and thankfully I needn’t, because she is everywhere. Social media is inundated with her interviews, ads, Instagram stories, and she has three films releasing this year.

She admitted in the interview, “I haven’t been depressed but I’ve had bouts of anxiety. It comes and goes. It’s been happening quite a bit since the past five to six months…Sometimes, I feel like crying for no reason. Then it passes. Initially, I’d be a little confused. I’d constantly give reasons that it’s because of work or maybe I’m tired or haven’t been able to meet anyone… The kind of personality I have, I become a little on the edge.”

Bhatt said that being aware of her sister, Shaheen Bhatt’s fight with depression; she doesn’t try to run away from her feelings, with the pretence of everything being fine. In her case, her friends’ support has really helped.

“I spoke to Ayan about it, I spoke to my sister’s friend Rohan (Joshi). Everyone told me that you’ve got to realise that it will go away. What’s important is to accept it and not say that you’re fine. If you’re not feeling fine, then you should just say you’re not feeling fine.”

The 26-year-old is not the first actress whose mental health plummeted with astounding success. In 2015, Deepika Padukone spoke about her struggles with depression, of waking up one morning and ‘feeling so directionless’ that she didn’t know where to go.

“It was a great time and obviously at once one gonna think like why is she depressed, she has everything going for her… I couldn’t understand what was happening to me, there were times when I feel okay and there were times when I was really low.”

Padukone then founded The Live, Laugh, Love Foundation which aims to reduce the stigma, spread awareness and change the way we look at mental health.

Anushka Sharma had earlier said that she was on medication for her anxiety and in a matter-of-fact way pointed out that just as treating a physical ailment; she wanted to take the shame out of getting help for one’s mental health.

Ileana D’Cruz, who has relentlessly dodged mean comments on her social media about so much as an outfit choice, suffered from Body Dysmorphic Disorder. One can’t even begin to comprehend how difficult it must have been to navigate such a condition whilst working in an industry that serves perfection on a platter – “You get fixated on one body part, and you’re just obsessed with how much you don’t like it. That’s pretty much it for me. But I’ve reached a point where it’s like – I mean, it’s who I am. The people you see on magazine covers, they’re touched up, slimmed down, covered up.”

We often dismiss it as a ‘first world problem’ or something topical for millennials to talk about but according to recent statistics, India is one of the most depressed countries in the world. A study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) pointed out that “at least 6.5 per cent of the Indian population suffers from some form of the serious mental disorder, with no discernible rural-urban differences.”

We often dismiss it as a ‘first world problem’ or something topical for millennials to talk about.

To a certain extent, I feel that the heteronormative gender roles assigned to us makes it difficult for men especially to talk about how they are feeling. Because for years one has grown up hearing that crying or any acknowledgement of their vulnerabilities would make them less of a man.

And it’s time we give up the act. Especially in a country like India where we look up to our celebrities for just about everything from our fashion to our political choices, the media needs to be more responsible in reporting about mental illness without trivialising it. We don’t need the sensational headlines, the lazy copies with generous sprinkling of adjectives like ‘candid’ and ‘frank’. Give us a humane, empathetic narrative and I swear you will get your page views.

Picture Credit: worldtechfun.com

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The views expressed are the author’s own.

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