Sushant Singh Rajput‘s death unleashed a wave of sorrow on the collective Indian consciousness. But the events that followed came riding on a stronger wave, one that was so unprecedented that it managed to overshadow all the gloom surrounding the loss of a young actor, replacing it with some very ugly conversations. An exhibit of it is on full display on Twitter, where actor Kangana Ranaut‘s official handle has publicly questioned Deepika Padukone’s stance on mental health and depression.

Padukone, who was diagnosed with depression in 2014 and has been vocal about her battle with the mental illness even at the highest points of her professional career, has come under fire from Ranaut. Along with the caption “Repeat after me,” Ranaut’s account has reshared an old clip of the Queen actor, where she can be seen saying, “Deepika Padukone achanak se 2015-16 mein kehti hai ki mujhe 2008 mein dump kiya gaya tha, uska depression mujhe aaj ho gaya hai. Uske beech mei unke affair bhi chale, unki shaadi hui. Aisa kaisa depression hai jo 8 saal baad hota hai?” (translation: In 2015-16, Padukone suddenly claims she was dumped in 2008, an event that caused her depression. But in that period, she had romantic affairs, got married. What kind of depression is this, that sets in eight years after an event?)

Also Read: Sushant Singh Rajput’s Death: Media Coverage Hits A New Low

A Depressed Person Doesn’t Have To Look Sad All The Time

Diatribes such as these are taking India back by several years on mental health issues. 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, careless comments around mental health, especially ones that come from public figures who hold sway over millions of people, will only strengthen the taboo around the subject. Dispersing the belief that a depressed person must look, act, and behave a certain way – with frowns, tears, and sadness, to be specific – creates a serious barrier in the way of people who are genuinely battling this mental disease.

But Ranaut is not alone in propagating this message. National news channels are doing it too, on prime time television. An anchor of a certain news channel, in an analysis of Rajput’s old videos, surmised that he “doesn’t look depressed” because he was smiling. She goes 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: How My Father Supported My Mother In Her Struggle With Depression

Can We Afford Loose Talk Around Mental Health?

This is a highly dangerous narrative and one that perhaps poses a very real threat to the process of sensitising India towards depression. A 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, and the average age of onset of depression is 31.9 years, in India.” NCBI also stated that Major Depressive Disorder had a “lifetime prevalence of 10–25 percent for women,” and that the “burden of depression is 50 percent higher for females than males.

Another recent study by the United Nations’ International Labour Organization concluded that currently, “one in two young people is showing symptoms of depression or anxiety.” Centred around such disheartening statistics, can we afford loose talk around mental health? Can we neglect the effects of mental strain that comes with defaming someone? Moreover, should people be encouraging public humiliation on social media?

Also Read: Michelle Obama Says She Is Suffering From Low-Grade Depression

“Depression Is Not The Same As Sadness,” Deepika Padukone Reiterates

Rajput’s alleged death by suicide is currently under investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation after the Supreme Court’s verdict yesterday. But in these two months when the law was tracing its course, the mudslinging that occurred to and from actors within Bollywood and the audience outside caused a big mess. And we’re standing neck-deep in it today. Where Padukone took Rajput’s death as an opportunity to spread awareness about mental health, by posting small notes on social media – such as “Depression is not the same as sadness” – Ranaut took it as an opportunity to campaign against the “depression ka dhandha chalane wale.” This is not just about Padukone, but the thousands of people who have to endure depression in silent because their mental health issues are seen as a sham, especially if they don’t “look” the part.

Depression is a mental disease that can manifest itself in multiple ways that don’t necessarily have to be physical. A laughing, smiling person is as susceptible to mental illnesses as a person whose disposition is not that upbeat. This, touted to be the baseline for creating awareness around mental health in the Indian context, is the conversation that should be given space right now to move simultaneously along the official investigation of Rajput’s death.

Views expressed are the author’s own.

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