Recently, on the OTT show Lock Upp Zeeshan Khan, actor, referred to a fellow contestant as “bipolar,” apparently in a light-humoured way. But mental health disorders are nothing to joke about. And actor Nisha Rawal, who is also a contestant on the show, told him as much.
When Khan said that Azma Fallah did not want to get in on friendly terms with his team because she was “bipolar,” Rawal did not hold back on letting him know how dangerous what he said was. “Zeeshan, see I am clinically bipolar. You do not know what it means. It’s best you take it back, the message won’t go rightly,” she said.
Khan did take his words back and apologised. But the incident is telling of what the general approach is among the public towards issues of mental health. A subject that is best dealt with sensitively is discounted of importance, its meanings being trivialised and thrown around casually.
What kind of a precedent does that set for spreading awareness about this phenomenon that is significant to us all?
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Ironically, the host of Lock Upp, Kangana Ranaut, has emerged as an antagonistic figure in the mental health department of late. In 2020, most prominently, the actor made several consecutive remarks about depression that were deeply problematic but also emblematic of how much of India views mental health. Read what she said here.
Between friends, among family, in classrooms and office cubicles, we hardly think twice before making loose mentions of major health conditions that affect real lives. And in doing so, we intentionally or unintentionally diminish the gravitas this subject deserves.
‘Oh, her moods keep changing, she’s bipolar.’ Or, ‘He’s so depressed about his favourite show being cancelled.’ We use mental health issues as adjectives to describe people’s behavioural highs or dips. That is wholly detrimental to the awareness around mental health since in flinging around the names of disorders at people who don’t have them, we are depreciating the medical value of it all.
How harmful is such a narrative in a country like India where we refuse to acknowledge that mental health issues are even real? Where taboo shrouds the topic that no one wants to talk about openly? If we take away even the little importance that the subject presently holds, by speaking of it in loose terms, what will that mean for our collective well-being?
India, per data, does not reflect positive figures when it comes to mental health. As quoted by the World Health Organisation, the National Mental Health Survey 2015-16 noted that one in 20 Indians was depressed. The numbers have exponentially charted upwards during the pandemic, with a Lancet study showing that depression and anxiety disorders have increased by 35 percent.
Under such circumstances, can we afford to be so desensitised to mental health disorders as we currently are?
Views expressed are the author’s own.