Actor Kushal Punjabi’s  suicide at the age of 37 has again highlighted how  fame and money can sometimes bring an unaccompanied baggage  of depression and mood swings with it.

 The annals of the Indian film industry are full of instances where many celebrities, like tragic Hindi film heroines/heroes suffered in silence and died rather than coming out in the open. Meena Kumari, like many roles she essayed on the silver screen, drank herself to death while Parveen Babi, the first Indian actress to be featured on the cover of the Time magazine, too became a recluse and died a lonely death.

The reason is the stigma surrounding mental health/ illness that stops them from talking about it in public.

But as they say times they’re a-changin’ and many film stars have come out in public to talk about their struggle with mental disorders.

One must give credit to Deepika Padukone for bringing out this issue in the open. At the peak of her career, Deepika spoke about her fight with depression and also how it’s important for people suffering from this ailment to speak out and take professional help.  Deepika must be applauded because being in showbiz she knows how young and vulnerable people have succumbed to a slight setback.

It can be called Deepika effect that the Secret Superstar did not keep this secret under the veil.  Zaira Wasim of the Dangal fame took the veil off of her struggle with depression and anxiety.  In a Facebook post, she poured out her heart and admitted that she has been suffering from depression and anxiety for the past four years but was scared to talk about it because of the stigma.

Shama Sikankar of the television serial Yeh Meri Life Hai fame now not only openly talks about how she overcome bipolar disorder but also want to make a series of short films Ab Dil Ki Sun, which focuses on the issue of mental health and how to deal with it.

  Ruchir Sodhani, a  counsellor at Rukmani Birla Hospital and Santokba Durlabhji Memorial Hospital, says the problem is manifold. “In India and even in the West there is so much emphasis on being positive. Depression, anxiety, and sadness are normal emotions which come in lives of every person but they are seen as ‘negative emotions’ which a normal person should not have. This makes a person suppress them because unlike ailments it is seen as something wrong with that person and he is responsible for it.

 As far as celebrities are concerned, Sodhani says success is the main reason because they fear that by admitting it their image may suffer. Loss of fame and money deter them from coming out in the open as they may lose endorsements or ratings of their shows may go down etc.

  Sodhani says unlike diabetes or blood pressure, there is no such test which can determine whether the person is suffering from depression or not.  It is important for people around that person to observe behavioural changes in him.

But as far as treatment is concerned, thoughts of suicide and depression should be treated like chest pain, diabetes and blood pressure because you cannot overcome these conditions without medical help, he added.

What the story of Kushal Punjabi tells us is that depression is like any other ailment which can be cured through professional help. But people need to speak about it.

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Asif Ullah Khan

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