Deepika Padukone's #DobaraPoocho is spreading wrong information about depression

The new campaign by the actor's NGO is an example of what happens when serious issues are compressed into viral videos.

 |  5-minute read |   17-10-2016
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Father Brown, GK Chesterton's inimitable cleric-detective, once solved the murder of a preternaturally cheerful man called Aaron Armstrong.

He came to the conclusion that nobody would believe at first: Armstrong, who was "entertaining to the point of being comic", had killed himself.  The main suspect in the case was, in fact, trying to save Armstrong.

"'To save him!' repeated Gilder. 'And from what?'

'From himself,' said Father Brown. 'He was a suicidal maniac.'

'What?' cried Merton in an incredulous tone. 'And the Religion of Cheerfulness -- '

'It is a cruel religion,' said the priest, looking out of the window. 'Why couldn't they let him weep a little, like his fathers before him?" 

As we move ahead with this story, we realise that there is no uniform way in which a person deals with the secret anxieties of life. In Aaron Armstrong, we meet head-on with one of the rare, subtle depiction of mental illness.

This is way back in 1911, when vagaries of the mind were a hush-hush affair and subtly written about in many fictional works (Chesterton’s, in fact, was among the subtler representations). No wonder then that the metaphors supplanted in literature gave way to a large set of prejudices and metaphors about mental health.

Though it may seem like a long time has passed by since then, the attitudes towards mental health have not fundamentally altered. With many sensational viral campaigns on the internet, it is now convenient to send across (mis)information that is squeezed into compartments and communicated on a large scale.

I sense we are headed towards a slippery slope in the process: you homogenise data, put catchy hashtags, use celebrity endorsements and via media, it reaches millions in the country. Even if the campaign’s heart is at the right place, the data is so serious that it can cause irreparable damage.

Take for instance, the viral campaign of Live, Laugh, Love Foundation which makes the mistake of equating sadness and grief with depression. Certainly, these are seamlessly tied emotions we are talking about, but take a good look at #DobaraPoocho and you will see how depression can be confused with mood swings, or not having a good day.

 

"Parvaah hain toh dobara poocho (If you care enough, then please ask again)" is the tagline of Deepika Padukone’s foundation launch against depression.

In the viral video, we are shown how one after another all the people who are suffering from anxiety, stress etc break down and weep when repeatedly asked by their loved ones, "What’s wrong?" "What are you not telling us?"

A teary-eyed Deepika Padukone broke down as she thanked her mother for guiding her through the "darkest" hour of life in the launch of the campaign. While I agree that in order to promote mental well-being, we have to observe people with vulnerabilities and rejection fears, but we may not necessarily find them weeping their hearts out.

Some of them may be as cheerful and as "normally" functioning and may refuse to share with us their side of the story. A lot of times, patients suffering from clinical depression detest being continually asked and reminded of their condition. Even morale-boosting proverbs and idioms like "If I can come out of depression, so can you", may not work.

Therefore, in order to destigmatise mental illness, one needs to be more subtle than #DobaraPoocho. I think this ad would have done better if it compared mental illness to any form of physical illness.

Psychologist and author, Guy Winch in his TEDtalk “Why we all need to practice emotional first aid" brings a better perspective in this regard. He tells us, "It is time we closed the gap between our physical and our psychological health. It's time we made them more equal, more like twins."

The second problem is that the locations that are shown in #DobaraPoocho are undoubtedly urban areas, so we are missing out on a lot of mental health issues from rural areas. There must be an attempt to show the latter because economic disparity can be a major barrier in speaking frankly about mental illness.

We already know that the medicines prescribed for clinical depression are exorbitantly priced, so we need to find ways to make the mental health care accessible in remote areas.

Thirdly, India with all its glorification of biological motherhood needs to do away with the taboos associated with pre-natal and post-partum depression, a picture of which the video fails to give us.

In sum, when serious issues are compressed into viral videos, a lot of nuances are lost. Recall Deepika’s ad #MyChoice which was criticised precisely because of the format in which it put empowerment in boxes.

The equation of sadness and grief with depression is a flawed one; one ought to be careful in understanding them as substitutes. They are different and cannot be used interchangeably. For a better comprehension, watch this video titled "A Day in the life of Depression" by The Mighty Site.

Using the word "depression" casually and humourously for every bad mood swing is doing injustice to a serious illness/disease which can be treated effectively. And grief is not the only marker; there are a lot of other reasons like brain chemistry, family history, neurotransmitters, and so on.

Life typically has more nuance and ambiguity than viral videos. We need to understand this.

Also read: 'Can you tell my parents I let them down? I'm going to die'

Writer

Rini Barman Rini Barman @barman_rini

Independent writer and researcher, Guwahati

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