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With Murder Ruled Out In Sushant Case Can We Go Back To Discussing Mental Health?

In a country like ours where the topic of mental illness is already heavily censored and brushed under the carpet like it doesn’t exist, we shouldn't have even ventured near making careless comments around mental health.

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Tanvi Akhauri
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The All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) team led by Dr Sudhir Gupta that was heading the medical examination of Sushant Singh Rajput's post-mortem has entirely ruled out the murder angle in the case, as per latest reports. India Today quoted Dr Gupta as saying, "Sushant death is a case of suicide. Murder completely ruled out." The circumstantial evidence suggests that there was no foul play in the actor's death on June 14. Now that the medical air has formally been cleared on the case, the torrent of murder theories, Bollywood conspiracies, and blame on Rhea Chakraborty overdosing him on drugs must stop. The focus must shift back to mental health, as it should have weeks ago.

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The only thing comparable to the devastation Rajput's death brought was perhaps the devastating media coverage and false reports that were spun in its aftermath. Fingers were pointed at people in and around Rajput's social circles, from within Bollywood and without, fuelling unfounded theories of a secret conspiracy to kill him - a narrative that gained momentum on the back of Twitter hashtags demanding 'justice for SSR' and a call to 'arrest SSR killers'. Amid all this high-octane drama, the initial thread of mental health India had picked up on right after news of Rajput's suicide broke, was left hanging loose. Now with the reports of AIIMS and Cooper Hospital doctors' forensic reports ruling out murder, can we go back to the mental health conversation? More importantly, will we be able to go back to it?

Also Read: The Conversation Around Depression Shouldn’t Be Derailed In Light Of Sushant’s Death Investigation

Justice For SSR At The Cost Of Mental Health?

The damage conspiracy theories and theorists have caused the mental health discourse and those people currently suffering from disorders has been unparalleled. Unverified statements were thrown about by no less than celebrities themselves, led by Kangana Ranaut who went so far as to mock Deepika Padukone's battle with depression and said, "depression is a consequence of drug abuse". With her misinformed claims, she told her followers that it is okay to fling “depression” and “drug abuse” around at will. Jibes were taken, personal agendas were run, and diatribes were made - and all at the cost of what? Mental health.

In a country like ours where the topic of mental illness is already heavily censored and brushed under the carpet like it doesn’t exist, we shouldn't have even ventured near making careless comments around mental health. It has only risked teetering uninformed people towards deeming the subject more taboo than it already was. Hasn't that served a severe blow to normalise mental illnesses? Who's to say that henceforth, the average Indian won't look at depression only in light of the stigma attached to marijuana and drugs? Will people not regard disorders with greater suspicion than they did before?

Also Read: Coverage of Rhea Chakraborty Signals New Low for Indian Media

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study by NCBI quoted the World Health Organization (WHO) as saying that “Indians are reported to be among the world’s most depressed,” wherein “prevalence of depression is 9 percent, of major depressive episode is 36 percent". Another study by the United Nations’ International Labour Organisation concluded that currently, “one in two young people is showing symptoms of depression or anxiety.” With such disheartening statistics, was it wise to disregard mental health with the alarming aggression that it was after Rajput's death?

The Damage To Mental Health Talk By News Channels

But the onus of taking us back on the mental health conversation doesn't just fall on people. The media should be held accountable for their fair share of damage done. News channels like Times Now contributed heavily to the murder theory in implicit ways. Anchor Navika Kumar, in an analysis of Rajput’s old videos, surmised that he “doesn’t look depressed” because he was smiling. She went on to say that in the video from January 2020, Rajput looks “absolutely fine, absolutely normal” and that it was hard to believe someone like him could die by suicide come June.

Also Read: Bullying, Homophobia, Conversion Therapy: What Is Pushing Queer People To Suicide?

Another theory that flew in the news was that there was no reason for Rajput to be suicidal. He was a good-looking, well-earning, much-loved man with a tight circle of family and friends who doted on him. What could go wrong? But it is a known fact that mental illnesses, ones like depression, don't always have a specific reason from which they stem. Something that Padukone too has attested to - that even at the height of her career and stardom, she was battling a mental disease.

Did such reporting not disperse the false stereotype that a depressed person must look, act, and behave a certain way – with frowns, tears, and sadness?

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Did it not discount the experiences of patients who are genuinely battling mental diseases and are trying to cope by finding the silver lining in life? Moreover, will it now not prevent people, who were hoping to acknowledge their mental illness or consult a therapist, from addressing their issues for fear that they might be called unreal?

Will India Be Able To Restart Its Mental Health Conversation?

In the fight for finding justice for one person, heaven knows how many people suffered injustice. Several women from Bollywood were made victims of witch-hunts and trials by media, with Rhea Chakraborty in the lead. Smear campaigns were started against her and all those who supported her, with claims that they all had a hand in Rajput's death. Chakraborty was manhandled, pushed, jostled outside the NCB office, signalling the lowest of the lows for TV media. Industry members were given rape and death threats, (as claimed by the Producers Guild), and blame games played on no solid grounds.

Also Read: Navika Kumar, You Disgraced Journalism by showing Rajput’s Dead Body on Television

Would that not have been detrimental to the mental health of those under attack? Would it not have been disturbing to see their names being flung around like abuses without official investigating agencies naming them? Was that not injustice? And who should be held responsible for it? The media, television viewers, or those decrying the existence of mental health?

Does India still have the capacity to start afresh a conversation on mental health? Will those rallying for justice for Rajput have the good sense to bring the mental health issue into the fold of their campaign?

No one knows; we'll only have to wait and watch. But one thing is certain: The deep gash that the aftermath of Rajput's death caused the national dialogue on mental health is a setback that will take a long time to heal. The only way to mend it now is by restarting factual talk around it, with renewed vigour and open minds.

Views expressed are the author's own. 

Sushant Singh Rajput Depression mental health deepika padukone Rhea Chakraborty kangana ranaut
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