Sushant Singh Rajput’s death by suicide has sparked a rather uncomfortable conversation – depression & suicide. Sushant Singh Rajput had delivered several hit films in the last few years – M S Dhoni, Kedarnath, and ironically, Chhichhore, a film that addresses the issue of suicide.
Despite 10 Million followers on Twitter, one could be unhappy. Lonely & unhappy. The unhappiness that nobody wants to talk about. Lest you be labeled uncool.
Depression & Show Biz
A study commissioned by Entertainment Assist and conducted by Victoria University had revealed shocking rates of mental health problems within the entertainment industry.
Figures show that the rate of attempted suicide in the entertainment industry is more than double the rest of the population. Scarily, it also found that in the past 12 months, workers in the entertainment industry considered taking their own lives almost seven times more than the general population, with that number jumping to nine times for road crew members. Entertainment industry workers are 10 times more likely to suffer from anxiety and more prone to suffer from insomnia and sleep disorders.
“Sadly, it was pretty much what we expected, anecdotally, we have known there has been a problem forever,” Susan Cooper, general manager of Entertainment Assist says.
India already experiences the highest suicide rates in the world; of 804,000 suicides recorded worldwide in 2012, India accounted for 258,000, shows World Health Organization (WHO) data. Yet, there is only one psychiatrist for every 343,000 Indians currently.
“Among other problems are depression, acute economic insecurity, anxiety among youths over educational success, and distress among young women caught in a bind between the opportunities of a changing India and pressure from traditionally minded families to marry,” A New York Times article states.
For entrepreneurs & entertainers, big & small, the struggle is silent. The psychological cost they pay is high and often goes unnoticed behind the facade of star-studded, sharp, always-on-point lives.
There’s a sense that one must not talk about a failure to cope with a failing business, a failing relationship, or a failing life. Breaking down is considered a weakness. That gets you labeled ‘unstable’ enough to be backed by investors and people? There’s a glory in the hustle and the sleepless nights.
Paresh Kamath, a musician shared after another young entertainer, Karan Joseph ended his life in 2017:
Karan Joseph’s death has brought to the surface the less glamorous parts associated with being a musician or an artist. I didn’t know him too well personally, but some of my close friends did. They’d narrate some incident they were witness to, and it became apparent that he was not all fine up there. He was loved for the music that seemed to flow out so joyously from his fingers. You saw him completely engrossed at his keyboard and ‘feeling it’ as he played all those lovely melodies and harmonies, it was seductive, everyone wanted him for his talent.
But I sometimes wonder whether he’d have had as many friends and admirers if he didn’t have a keyboard in front of him and may be he wondered the same. He had apparently suffered a childhood of abuse. He was in need of help. I heard stories of how he’d be one person at night and the opposite the next morning, feeling sorry for how he’d behaved the night before. Stories of how he’d missed rehearsals and even shows. It felt like he didn’t have a coping mechanism to deal with the image that he’d created for himself – Image of a good musician, and that he gave in to clutches, like booze and drugs to be that guy he felt people had built him up to be.
It’s a similar story to a lot of us. We’re products of our own making. We’re loved for our talent, but that doesn’t guarantee you, love. It doesn’t guarantee you help when you need it. We’re considered ‘cool’ and ‘hip’ solely based on our musical credentials. It’s like having a lot of muscle and being considered brave! What’s not apparent is that a lot of super muscular men are probably men that were mercilessly bullied as kids. It’s an outward ‘Don’t you dare!’ to cover up for a lack of real coping mechanism.”
Break The Silence
For every musician, stand-up artist, an actor with a tour manager, business class seat, and a reservation at a five-star restaurant, there are hundreds more flying solo on Spicejet & Air India every weekend and making do with a hotel room club sandwich. Most of us have probably felt some pang of desperation while fighting fatigue waiting for a delayed flight home from a barren airport. And struggling to manage rent and the lifestyle one is supposed to have. With COVID-19 in our world, this is expected to get worse.
The first step is to talk about mental health. To accept that one can and do go through mental health issues. When Deepika Padukone spoke about her battle with depression, she did her part of normalizing the conversation around mental health. If this means bringing music, art down from the pedestal, be it. Normalizing failure, just like any other career option – where if you don’t succeed, you switch, can be one step forward.
Our inhibitions to talk about failure is why suicides grew in the first place. And when successful, famous leaders walk the talk, it normalises those conversations about anxiety and depression and gives an invisible social acceptance to those who wish to seek help.
Lending A Compassionate Ear
Be open to look out, reach out. Over 5 crore people suffer from depression in India and someone around you could be one of them. Lending a compassionate ear can help several. If you know someone who is emotionally distressed, has made any attempts at committing suicide, tell them that you are there for them. Being an active listener and being aware of signs of distress can help you make the person realize that you will help them and that they deserve to be helped.
A Forgiving, Empathetic Community: Having an empathetic support community one can confide into someone who’d understand can help a great deal. At our community meet-ups Shaam Ki Chaai, we insist people talk. Talk about themselves, their feelings, things that make them beyond their jobs. And we encourage people to listen.
Mentors: In an industry that is highly competitive, mainly unregulated, rarely measured on meritocracy, often insular, it is important to have someone to lean on. There is a range of evolving skills, strengths, and sensitivities needed by an artist in the modern entertainment industry that even the very best stumble from time to time. The best way to prevent these consequences is through effective mentoring and the building of a virtuous circle where the budding artists are guided by those that came before them.
Seeking help: In his article on depression faced by entrepreneurs, Anshul writes,
“I’ve met several entrepreneurs who accept that they’re going through mental health issues but are not willing to meet mental health professionals who could help solve them. The way our society has projected entrepreneurs has been fairly toxic. Either you make it, or you vanish. Go big or go home. What this has also done is created a sense that you’re either someone who has their shit together, or you are a failure.”
The same applies to anyone trying to make a name in the entertainment industry. The need is to normalize seeking psychological intervention in times of distress.
There are several organizations, crisis centers, and suicide prevention helplines that offer support if you are emotionally distressed or feeling suicidal.
Sanjivini Society, Delhi (Free consultation) – 40769002, 41092787, 26864488
The Samaritans Mumbai– 022 6464 3267, 022 6565 3267, 022 6565 3247
MINDS Gujarat– +919033837227; firstname.lastname@example.org
Sikkim– 221152, Police Control Room, Gangtok
iCall– +91 22 2556 3291, email@example.com, Mumbai
Thanal– 0495 237 1100, firstname.lastname@example.org
Saath– 079 2630 5544, 079 2630 0222
Roshni– 040 790 4646, email@example.com
Lifeline Foundation– +91 33 24637401, +91 33 24637432
Sumaitri– 011-23389090, firstname.lastname@example.org
The news of Sushant Singh Rajput ending his life comes as a timely reminder to all who work in these rather glamourized industries or with friends and family who do, that it’s not all keynote speeches, high profile lunches and back-stage passes. It is also an empty, despicable pocket of apathetic fans and followers.
Feature art by Kathy Le.
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