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Do Knee Jerk Reactions After A Tragic Celebrity Death Really Address The Underlying Toxicity?

Posted: June 14, 2020

Mental health needs to be spoken about every single day. Medication is essential. Therapy is a boon. And there’s no one way to deal with it. Let’s talk.

As we all come to terms with actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death by suicide as reported by the media, once again social media is abuzz with posts on the urgent need to get help and reach out in cases of mental health.

While all these posts are well-intentioned, for some of us, who speak about it on a regular basis, and keep highlighting how such meagre discussion about mental health actually happens, these posts are simply a knee-jerk reaction to a tragic celebrity death.

That this death is amplified numerous times because of how “young” the person was or how “talented” he was, is just an added trigger to overwhelming amount of people suddenly asking survivors of mental health issues to reach out.

But how are we to reach out?

The society is not made for people to reach out. There is chaos, there is toxic politics, there is climate change, there is this general anxiety of constant competition in a capitalist society, and to add to it, there’s a massive pandemic.

It was never easy for survivors to reach out for the fear of stigma, of being gaslighted, of being victim blamed, and now, the pandemic has ensured that despite the increasing number of mental health issues, the respite and help available has been stunted.

‘You are just overreacting’ is not a valid response

It is also essential to understand that dealing with people with intense mental health issues is not easy. Listening is a very important tool, but at the same time, it is also essential to say things that do not escalate issues.

Many times, the general advice provided, can be extremely harmful.

“Why don’t you do yoga?”, “Depression is just a state of mind. If you smile and be happy, depression will slowly go away”, “you are just overreacting”, etc can cause irreparable damage to someone who is already struggling to make sense of their mind.

Meditation, on the contrary, can be deeply distressing for people with a history of C-PTSD and anxiety disorders. Traumatic memories can fuel immense disruptive and harmful thoughts. Hence, before you ask people to reach out, it might be a good idea to read up more and educate yourself about clinical depression.

Tragedy of a death doesn’t depend on how much ‘potential’ is lost

Another type of posts that do rounds during such deaths are the ones that speak about how talented the individual was or how they could have achieved so much and they’re gone too soon.

While I understand how bringing up their personal talents can be a good way to remember them for some, please try and see another perspective here, that talent or potential is not a measure of how big a tragedy it is. Irrespective of whether the person had potential or no, they deserved to be heard, to live, to be happy. They never owed their potential to anyone, not then, not ever.

There’s no one way to deal with mental health issues

It is also important to understand that different people will have different ways of dealing with mental health issues. Some of them might be vocal on social media, some of them might be silent, some others might be talking to chosen people, some others probably look high functioning and happy and a few others might be lax and demotivated.

None of this invalidates the suffering that any mental health issue causes.

Many posts trivialize issues of people who are vocal or highly functional, the former are seen as attention seeking, while the latter are seen as anomalies, when in fact neither of these are any less than those who keep quiet or speak only to chosen ones. We need to ask ourselves why is seeking attention so frowned upon, unless it is toxic in nature.

We need to have more conversations

Mental health needs to be spoken about every single day. Medication is essential. Therapy is a boon.

Untangling neurological wires is the need of the day in a world where majority people suffer but the suffering goes highly undetected. We need to hold society accountable. Because we are products of it and if some of us are choosing to end ourselves, then it is we who have collectively failed as a world.

If you or anyone you know is feeling suicidal, here are some of the helplines available in India. Please call. 
Aasra, Mumbai: 022-27546669
Sneha, Chennai: 044-2464 0050
Lifeline, Kolkata: 033-2474 4704
Sahai, Bangalore: 080–25497777
Roshni, Hyderabad: 040-66202000, 040-66202001

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