Processing The Shock Behind Sushant Singh’s Suicide: The Way Ahead

On Saturday, 14th June, Sushant Singh died by suicide. His sudden demise has shocked the whole nation. Mainstream media has made a tamasha of the news. Social media hasn’t been far behind and has succeeded in creating a stir of all kinds of responses. Suddenly, everyone is talking about mental health, anxiety, depression, nepotism, amongst so many other things that it is disturbing at many levels even for me as a mental health professional.

First and foremost, I would like to begin this post by talking about the phrase “committed suicide” when reporting a case of suicide. Albus Dumbledore said in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, “Words are, in my not so humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic, capable of both inflicting injury and remedying it.” Using sensitive vernacular is of paramount importance in situations as delicate as Sushant Singh’s untimely departure. We need to remember that our words have consequences and we must do everything in our power to make use of the right choice of words when dealing with mental health conditions and suicidal tendencies. The more appropriate term to use would be “died by suicide” or “completed suicide” as it simply implies the cause of death and not how it happened. We do not say someone committed a heart attack because we already have the acuity that it is a physical condition. Using the term “committed suicide” at some level assigns blame on the deceased and makes one view suicide from a lens of shame or wrongdoing (people commit crimes or sins), and this stigmatizes the victim further.

Second, the way the whole event was reported and discussed made it seem as if it was a peculiar event, far from “normalcy” that only happens to some peculiar people. Suicide should disturb and distress, not fascinate us. To all those on social media playing detective and trying to uncover why he did what he did, please, for a moment, pause. Reflect. What is making you fall into the trap of exploring multiple narratives and who is giving you that power to decide which is the right narrative out of the many? Also, what biases and prejudices and baggage from your own life are you unconsciously attaching and displacing to this event? What about this incident has shocked you the most? What would you like to do to let out your grief and discharge your shock?

Mental health matters. Unfortunately, people still see mental illness as a sign of weakness and that is why they shrug away from seeking help. I know many people who would really benefit from availing mental health services and they believe so too, but they expect mental health services to be free or at abnormally low costs because, alas, at some level, they too feel that spending on a physical illness is alright but not on mental health concerns. As a mental health professional with over eight years of experience in the field, I have come across educated people in top positions, freely spending money at fine-dine restaurants, movie-theatres, branded clothes, but asking for discounts or free services when it comes to matters of mental health. It’s easy to proclaim on social media how anxiety and depression is real and there is a need to address it, not ridicule it, but how many people making those proclamations are wiling to seek the help they need and deserve? What factors are getting in the way of them seeking help? What are they willing to do to address it? How many of them are willing to recognize that the news has affected them tremendously and they would like to visit a counsellor or therapist to ease their pain? Or is it suddenly easier to just dismiss it as “Nothing is wrong with me…I am just taken by surprise…I will be fine.”?

Therapy can feel expensive if one chooses to look at the price-tag instead of the overall value. However, therapy is affordable for everyone. Therapists charge the amount they do depending on their expertise and years of experience. If one has a budget, they can always connect with therapists who are starting out. At the end of the day, therapists and counsellors are professionals too with their houses to run and costs to meet. They have invested incredibly in their training and education and it’s best to recognize their worth and see the value they have to offer before being completely dismissive or expecting them to offer therapy sessions pro bono or at minimal costs. Therapists and counsellors are no different from doctors and lawyers and they are allowed to charge the fee they feel they are worth.

There are many people blaming Sushant Singh’s therapist and counsellor for his suicide. Many people say that he was not taking his prescribed medications. First of all, psychiatrists prescribe medicines. Therapists and counsellors do not. And every professional is doing the best they can for the betterment of their client or patient. Going to any professional does not imply that one can now assume zero personal responsibility. It is always a collaborative effort, and it is unfortunate, that no one could reach out to him when he took that impulsive step. There are so many people blaming nepotism for his demise. We can keep playing the blame-game, but in the end, who knows what the truth really is? Also, nepotism is not exclusive to Bollywood. We see that at play everywhere. It does not make it right, but what if we could recognize the parts we play in fuelling this practice? If nepotism worked, Uday Chopra would be a star! There are so many people lashing out to celebrities like Ranbir Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor, Karan Johar – why? What if you could recognize your hurt, your grief, your shock and try processing that by reaching out to a mental health professional instead of spewing venom and hate and affecting the mental health of more and more people (famous or otherwise) by sharing inappropriate photos of Sushant’s dead body, or inappropriate messages and comments, using abusive language and name-calling on social media. What if you could leave his ex-girlfriend, for instance, alone? What needs to happen for you to respect the choice of a person whether they want to be with someone or not no matter what the reason? Where does this need to play moral police come from? How is it making you feel better? What else is possible? Can you think of healthier and more supportive ways to feel better? Also, before appointing Kangana Ranaut as the crusader saving Bollywood from nepotism, remember Jiah Khan? Back in 2013, due to her association with the Pancholis, Kangana Ranaut herself said, “Depression is a disease. No one is responsible for depression.” Can we please be responsible consumers and not allow ourselves to get swayed by all these different narratives?

Sushant Singh was a wonderful actor. He had immense potential. He left us too soon, and no matter what we do, we cannot bring him back. What if we could use our time to process our feelings, educate ourselves and our loved ones and ensure we are able to build a world where people are able to access and get the help they need and deserve?

There are so many messages on social media letting people know that they can reach out. No matter how well-meaning our intentions are, it’s best if we educate ourselves some more about mental health and also conditions like depression and anxiety. Please understand that people struggling with mental illness feel too drained and exhausted to even be able to reach out. In these isolating times of the pandemic, it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so. What if you could reach out to them? If there is someone if your space who has suddenly been laying low, instead of waiting for them to come to you, what if you could reach out to them? Ask them how they are doing. Ask them what’s been coming up for them. Listen to them from a space of nonjudgment and openness. Also, if you notice they are feeling low and not great, how can you compassionately direct them to a professional? Reaching out is amazing, and nudging them in the right direction is going to be even better. Educate, motivate and encourage yourself and your loved ones to seek professional help.

While we may have the best at heart, there is a reason why professional qualifications exist in the field of mental health. One may be a wonderful friend, sibling, parent, child, boss, colleague, but that does not make one an expert in the field of mental health. One can show empathy, compassion and concern for loved ones, but as long as two people share a part of their world together, they cannot operate from a space free of biases, opinions and judgments. That’s why guiding a person to a professional helps. Also, just like it’s alright to visit a doctor for a routine check-up, what if we could normalize and celebrate therapy and just visit a mental health profession to check on our overall sense of wellbeing. Please remember that not every therapist or counsellor will be the right fit for you. Feel free to experiment till you land on one that works best for you. One size never fits all, and it’s the same in the case of mental health.

Finally, mental illness can affect anyone. The suicide of Sushant Singh has, at some level, ruthlessly shattered and dispelled the myth that being successful and privileged guarantees happiness. We’ve been rudely awakened from all the false notions of security and the false sense of comfort we’ve harboured over the years. Whether we like to admit it or not, Deepika Padukone having clinical depression did not shock people as much as Sushant Singh’s suicide because we have all been raised in a culture of toxic masculinity where a woman is allowed to feel low, sad, and talk about it, but for a man taking such a step, it’s almost unheard of or uncalled for.

As a society, we may have progressed a great deal, but when it comes to matters pertaining to mental health, we still have a closed mindset. There are so many people willing to apply for a leave on grounds of medical condition, but they would not want to say they are applying for leave as they have a therapist’s appointment. Currently, many people do not have privacy in their homes for even giving themselves the gift of therapy, and this is a genuine concern especially because at many levels, people do not want others to know they are going for therapy – the stigma is strong no matter how much we claim otherwise. We need to look within and explore what are the unresolved emotions and belief-systems we unconsciously carry and propagate instead of mindlessly posting on social media. What if we stopped going to therapy as a last resort?

COVID-19 has led to an upheaval across the whole globe. People are feeling isolated, stressed, and falling prey to many mental health concerns. What if we allow ourselves to let the departed rest in peace, to let their loved ones grieve in their own way, and what if we took our time to cherish who the person was when he was alive, what he and the roles he played meant to us, what impact did it have in our life? Celebrity deaths are tricky because we don’t really know anything about them besides what meets the public eye, but what if we could process through our distress and emotional disturbance and work towards eradicating the stigma around mental health, and realize that just like COVID-19 can affect anyone, so can depression or any mental health condition for that matter. What we can do is look out for signs of distress and seek help for ourselves or our loved ones.

Everyone has the right to live a better life.

Take care!

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