I have heard many threads of futile conversation over the last few weeks about the circumstances and reasons behind surrounding Sushant Singh Rajput's tragic death. What I haven't heard enough of is meaningful conversations around mental health.
Let's forget for a moment the conspiracy theories or insensitive manner in which it has been propagated as fresh fodder for the ongoing nepotism debate within the Hindi film industry and forget even his past relationships and circumstances which have been gossiped over widely in tabloid media and may or may not have had a bearing on his decision.
Why don't we take a step back instead and think about suicide as a concept and the way it is approached in Indian culture? We must stop getting defensive and tackle the issue head on. Instead of quoting comparative suicide rates in Indians to the rest of the world, let's preface this conversation by saying the most rewarding bets will always be to use our origins and experience to affect change in the cultures we are part of, rather than those we are not. Let's try to understand suicide as a global issue and so we can effect change on a local level.
Many conversations and online threads focus on how much money and success Sushant had or the high standard of living he'd managed to create for himself. Others speak of his intelligence as a reason why he could not possibly be someone who would commit suicide. Several conversations point out an “Adversity Quotient” (AQ) as a key measure of the resilience of an individual and presumed lack thereof as being the probable cause for a decision as drastic as suicide. Finally, of course, other conversations try to piece together possible personal woes due to failed relationships, films and being 'left out' by the industry giants.
The underlying assumption with many of these conversations is that suicide is a decision only a certain type of person, an intensely 'weak' person, would come to. By creating these labels, we perpetuate further misgivings about ill mental health in the community so it is viewed as something that cannot touch us or our loved ones. An “Adversity Quotient” or accumulated success is not a static measure of mental state. Like most things, it changes with time and circumstances. We cannot label someone as having a low AQ in the same way we measure IQ. We must acknowledge that we are all susceptible to dark mental states and no one knows what combination of events may drive someone further into that darkness.
Just as no one thing makes us happy or sad there are many different layers to an individual's life and experience that must eventually contribute to taking a decision as terrible as suicide. To pin the root cause of that decision to just one thing is surely a disservice to the extent of mental suffering that must have caused this. It's a strange time when we feel the need to start quoting Arjun Kapoor, but I think he actually showed more maturity than most with his thoughts on this: “We will all wonder and try and make sense of what happened today. I just hope and pray that when the circus settles down, we as a society in due course realise that your choice wasn't driven by a singular moment or thing but a culmination of so much that defines a human being.”
However, I think we can do better. I think we can use the conversations created by this tragedy to educate ourselves about mental health, recognise it as an issue that can touch any of us, and initiate dialogue with our loved ones about their experiences. Ask our friends: “When were the times you felt most alone and did you have anyone to talk to ”; and “What eases your pain or what makes it worse ” Ask our parents: “How do you feel about the trials you've gone through and how has it shaped who you are today ”
Ask your children: “What brings you down ” and explore which parts they can share with you, and more importantly, which parts they won't. Show them the hard work you do to keep your mental health in check so they know it's not something to be taken for granted. Reassure them that they wouldn't have to be 'weaker' than the rest to be susceptible to ill mental health.
If this lockdown has taught us anything, it is the power of communication and connection in times of isolation.
by Shriya Prabhakar
Shriya is a Management Consultant based in west London, with an avid interest in Hindi cinema.