#Opinion

Virat Kohli Opens Up On Depression: Will This Normalise The Conversation For Men?

Virat Kohli on depression
Virat Kohli on Depression: Indian cricket team captain Virat Kohli opened up about dealing with depression in 2014, during a recent podcast. The batsman who became father of a baby girl recently said that mental health issues cannot be overlooked as they can destroy a person’s career. Will Kohli’s statement finally help society introspect the way mental health remains a taboo subject among men? Will it encourage men to open up about their mental health struggles, and not worry about being seen as “fragile”?

Speaking to England player Mark Nicholas on his podcast ‘Not Just Cricket’, the Indian cricketer opened up about a very difficult phase in his career and how it affected his mental wellness. When Nicholas asked him whether he had suffered from depression at that time, Kohli said, “Yes, I did.”

He elaborated, “……it’s not a great feeling to wake up knowing that you won’t be able to score runs and I think all batsmen have felt that at some stage that you are not in control of anything at all.” The comments were made in reference to his 2014 England tour, in which he scored 1, 8, 25, 0, 39, 28, 0,7, 6 and 20 in five test matches. “You just don’t understand how to get over it. That was a phase when I literally couldn’t do anything to overturn things…I felt like I was the loneliest guy in the world,” said Kohli.

I won’t say I didn’t have people who I could speak to but not having a professional to speak to who could understand what I am going through completely, I think is a huge factor: Virat Kohli on Depression

A WHO report says that in India an estimated 57 million people are affected by depression, which is 18 percent of the global estimate. The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment said in a report just this month that men and students made up for the majority of callers to India’s first mental health helpline, Kiran.

The struggles that each gender faces in dealing with mental health issues varies, depending on the stereotypes and stigmas that society has laden their kind with. For women, their illness is often belittled because “women tend to over-react”. They are expected to “adjust” to the problems in their life that may be leading to mental illnesses, rather than resolve them by seeking therapy. Young women are often discouraged from being vocal about such issues as it could also spoil their matrimonial prospects.

For Indian men, the stigma is strongly attached to the reverence of masculinity in our society. A “strong man” is expected to deal with all the problems in his life with a smile on his face. Boys are taught never to cry, neither in public nor in private. Men who display their emotional or sensitive side are often labelled as “girly” or weak.

How many men feel comfortable discussing mental health issues in locker rooms? How many men can freely discuss depression in pubs with their peers? Can they cry openly on a friend’s shoulder? In fact, how many men will be comfortable with a male friend sobbing in their arms and opening up about his mental health struggles? Also, can men even afford to admit that they have mental health issues, let alone go through the process of healing?

In 2019, Australian Cricketer Glenn Maxwell took a break from professional cricket to focus on his mental health. Imagine a talented all-rounder in India, or any man at the top of his career for that matter, saying that he wants to take a break from work because it is too much for him to cope. Imagine a young man, bearing the burden of expectations laden on his shoulders by society and his family, saying it openly that he has reached his breaking point.

As partners, parents, siblings, colleagues and friends, we women can act as allies here. We have been carriers of stigmas like “men who cry are weak” as much as the opposite gender. So just as we talk about the mental health of women, let us also encourage men in our lives to do the same. It is okay to say that you are feeling lonely, depressed or dealing with anxiety for every gender. However, it is not okay if you cannot find the courage to say so out of the fear of being judged.

Virat Kohli’s statement can be a good point for us start a larger discussion on mental health, one that is inclusive of all genders, one that normalises failure for successful people, and one that also encourages everyone to seek help, when in need.

Image Credit: AP

Views expressed are the author’s own.