When dreams die young

What drives an otherwise normal and healthy person to take his or her own life? It is an extreme form of self-harm, which cannot be explained by ordinary standards of logic or reason.

 |  5-minute read |   18-06-2020
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The whole nation has been shocked by the supposed suicide of Sushant Singh Rajput on Sunday morning. The well-loved actor was only 34. He achieved stardom on the small screen in the popular TV serial Pavitra Rishta, where he played the lead male from 2009 to 2011. His first movie was Kai Po Che! (2013) that not only did well at the box office but also won him a best male debut award.

Mental well-being

Sushant’s last film, Chhichhore, released late last year, and was a huge hit, grossing over Rs 200 crores. Sushant played Anirudh “Anni” Pathak, whose son Raghav tries to commit suicide by jumping off his balcony. It is sadly ironic that Sushant ended his life while in the movie his character talks his son out of his depression, rekindling the latter’s will to live: ‘Agar galti se fail ho gaye, toh failure se kaise deal karna hai… koi baat hi nahi karna chahta’ (If you fail, no one wants to talk about how to deal with failure).

While the police are still investigating the matter, what we know is that on the previous night, Sushant hosted a few of his friends in his home. The following morning, he retreated into his room. When his house help tried to remind him to have his breakfast, there was no response from inside. After a couple of hours, the staff and a friend opened the door with a duplicate key. Sushant was found hanging from the ceiling fan in his bedroom. There was no suicide note. According to some reports, he was suffering from depression because he felt powerful Bollywood lobbies were against him.

main_sushant-singh-r_061820104233.jpgSushant was clearly an intensely compassionate and sensitive soul. (Photo: Facebook/ @SushantSinghRajput)

While Sushant was a successful actor and celebrity, the Covid-19 pandemic has already claimed hundreds of lives not just by disease but also by suicide. According to Asian News International, by May 9, there were already 168 suicides in India during the lockdown, making it one of the leading causes of non-coronavirus deaths. Since the data is unreliable, based mostly on media reports, the actual numbers are likely to be higher.

What drives an otherwise normal and healthy person to take his or her own life? It is an extreme form of self-harm, which cannot be explained by ordinary standards of logic or reason. Whatever the associated or augmenting causes, the underlying issue is one of mental health. But psychological, emotional, and spiritual well-being is not something we pay much attention to even in the best of times.

We are afraid of being branded or stigmatised by family and friends if they find out that we are seeing a mental health professional. If we are on medication, it is considered even more shameful. Somehow, we are all supposed to be in full control of our lives. If we’re feeling sad, we are supposed to toughen up, fix things ourselves, or rely on our normal support systems. In most families, everyone is just too busy to deal with an emotional problem that requires special attention.

Lockdown effect

During the pandemic, mental health has become an even greater critical challenge. Clearly, it is not a class or age-specific issue. The profiles of the suicides show that they belong to diverse age groups and social strata, from the poor, middle class, and rich, those in their twenties to those in their sixties. Search engines have also reported a world-wide spike in suicide-related searches on the Internet.

Apart from the obvious economic angle, the underlying causes are much deeper and wider, relating to our mental health. Job and wage losses, financial setbacks, piling debts, and an uncertain future only add to our anxiety and stress levels, making us feel helpless and hopeless about our lives. The fear of losing what we have and having to face unexpected setbacks adds to the general sense of distress and panic. A lot of people feel insecure and defenceless.

Worse, it is those from the weakest sections who are most vulnerable to mental health issues. They are least likely to seek help from professionals because they cannot afford it. Another high-risk part of our population, when it comes not only to Coronavirus but to psychological disorders, are our elderly. They are often lonely, isolated, and neglected, which only adds to their depression. The lockdown has also triggered relationship problems and domestic squabbles, heightening the friction that comes from enforced contact in small spaces.

Being alone

To return to Sushant, he was clearly an intensely compassionate and sensitive soul. He was very close to his mother, who passed away when he was just sixteen. One of his last social media posts, just ten days before his own death, was on her: “Blurred past evaporating from teardrops/ Unending dreams carving an arc of smile/ And a fleeting life,/ negotiating between the two... Ma.” It was posted with a sepia photo of his mother. Just a few days earlier, his former manager, Disha Salian, had reportedly killed herself by jumping off a building in Malad. Disha was just 28. Sushant had deeply condoled her demise. To imagine that he himself would take his life is nothing short of tragic.

What are we to do? The answer is simple: stay safe, stay strong, stay united, look out for each other, pay attention and talk to those close to us, send out kind, healing, and uplifting thoughts to everyone who is suffering. Governments and authorities must do what they can, but this is the least that we ourselves can try.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also read: Why there is no time to lose when it comes to suicide prevention in India

Writer

Makarand R Paranjape Makarand R Paranjape @makrandparanspe

The writer is director, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. The views are personal.

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