At Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2020, SheThePeople moderated a session on mental health. Serial entrepreneur Ruchi Chopra was in conversation with author Shaheen Bhatt and commissioning editor, Penguin Books Gurveen Chadha about Bhatt’s maiden book I’ve Never Been (Un)Happier.  The book talks about Shaheen’s struggle with depression. In a candid chat, the author opened about how insomnia remains a big problem with her even today, how she continues to take medication, how talk therapy has been the best help for her and how we should or should not approach people who are dealing with mental health issues.  

Also Read: Alia Bhatt’s Sister Shaheen Reveals Depression Battle

Shaheen didn’t find out she had clinical depression till she was 18. It started when she was 12. It was after a very long time of “pretending I am fine” she sought help. Even once the doctor said it’s clinical depression, she believed it can’t be true as it’s “too convenient an answer” for her state of mind.

Shaheen Bhatt Depression
Kala Ghoda Literature Festival 2020, Ruchi Chopra in conversation with Shaheen Bhatt and Gurveen Chadha, Picture Credit: STP

Ruchi Chopra quoted a survey which says that India is the most depressed country and how depression is a very new conversation in our country. She then went on to ask the author how she thinks the book has changed her. To which she said that the book has “made me like myself more”. She believes that the book has helped her in making a much more profound connection with people around her as she has been able to realize how our experiences are so similar.

Does the world now look at her differently?

She said because of the book she has been able to forge amazing relationships. When mentioned how many people call her brave for opening up to the world, she clarified, “I am not brave I am honest.”

“I am not brave I am ­­­­honest.”

On reasons behind writing the book 

Shaheen said, “I had done an Instagram post in 2016, where I talked about depression for the first time, the response that I got for that post was incredible.” So she wondered how one single post could do so much. Also, she said the post “woke me up to the fact that this is happening to everyone and not something that is happening to just me.” At a point when she was wondering what more she could do towards the cause, the publishers approached her for writing a book.

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About the journey of writing the book she said, “It feels amazing, it’s really a journey that I didn’t expect. I did not expect that talking about something can feel so good. I was hiding essentially about who I am for so many years that almost became my identity. The mask became me, for the first time I feel like I am completely exposed, out in the open, anyone who wants to know, knows who I am”.

I did not expect that talking about something can feel so good.

What the Publishers thought about it

Gurveen confesses that she didn’t initially know that Shaheen had a story to tell. But the journey with the book has been simply tremendous.

On looking for a perfect state of emotional well-being

Ruchi Chopra then pointed out a section from the book in which Shaheen says, “We have been fed with a perfect state of emotional well-being.”

Shaheen explained, “Happiness is a changeable emotion. Different things will make you happy every day, something that made you happy yesterday won’t make you happy tomorrow. Your emotional state is changeable, and that is how it should be. It is an “order” if you are happy all the time”.

Is Depression being used extremely causally today?

Shaheen opined that there is a “certain romanticising of depression, there is a romanticising of negative emotional states.”

She added, “Very often I feel like you need to be very aware of the words that you are using, whether they are an accurate representation of what you are feeling. Depression is a mental illness, it is not feeling sadness for an hour or two hours. What I worry about is that there is a lack of awareness in the way we are using these terms.”

Depression is a mental illness, it is not feeling sadness for an hour or two hours.

 How should we approach someone who is dealing with mental health issues?

Shaheen said, there is no one size fits all, everyone is different so everyone’s depression is different. Everyone’s mental illness is different. She added that human beings as well-meaning people who want to give advice to people. But she urges people to not give advice, instead just hear them out. People who are struggling with mental health issues only want to be heard.

Depression is a new conversation in our country and we are not well-versed with it. Gurveen emphasised that books like these help understanding depression for caregivers as well and start the conversation.

“Anything that we don’t understand we inherently fear, and anything we fear then becomes a stigma. And unfortunately, there is a lot we do not know about the human mind yet.”

Are we too obsessed with vanity as a generation?

“I don’t think vanity is a bad thing. Vanity in itself is quite positive, it’s a self-serving emotion to have it gives a lot of people confidence,” said Shaheen, further adding, “We are lacking in awareness of why we do what we do. So if you are posting a selfie it is important to know why you are posting it. If you know it’s for validation that you are looking pretty then you need to know that.”

Whether Depression still remains a Stigma?

Shaheen said that depression is a stigma and needs to be actively spoken about. “Anything that we don’t understand we inherently fear, and anything we fear then becomes a stigma. And unfortunately, there is a lot we do not know about the human mind yet,” she added.

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