When you wake up on a Sunday morning from a long night’s sleep, after a very tiring week, you don’t want the first thing you see to be the news of a celebrity’s death and pictures of his dead body.
Death is always sad but when it’s called upon by oneself, it’s even sadder. Because then you start thinking about all the times you could’ve prevented it; you start looking back at the memories and sigh regretfully because all the signs were there, you just weren’t paying enough attention.
On Sunday, June 14, 2020, 34-year-old Sushant Singh Rajput died of suicide. One week later, the reason behind the suicide remains unknown, but the dominant narrative on social media quotes mental health. What happened after his death, showed our society’s duplicitous relationship with mental health, partial acceptability and the inability to understand that mental health is real – and acceptability can’t be limited to social media alone.
In the aftermath, suicide helplines were shared widely, everyone put up Instagram stories asking to check up on loved ones and the importance of mental health. But what good is this? What good is this two day social media awareness campaign? Most people will forget, most have already forgotten.
Millions of people battle mental health, but the condition remains known only to the immediate family, maybe a neighbour or two. But when a director makes a moving drama about it, it becomes a national talking point; articles are written about it. And even if we don’t come home right away and write out a cheque to an organisation helping people tackle mental health, we at least know there is such a thing and this is how it manifests itself and this is what you should do.
A celebrity’s depression is not any more or any less important than the mental health of any other person, but because the celebrity gets written about, a larger chunk of the population is able to put a face to the condition. They start thinking that Okay, maybe it is really a thing…
This is what awareness and talking about the issue does, but there is such a long way ahead and we can’t just keep on sharing Instagram stories only. That isn’t solving the problem.
With numerous shows and movies being made on mental health and celebrities coming out with their experiences, people are at least acknowledging the issue. But we’re stuck, we’re not taking the next step. All we’re doing is putting up an Instagram post, while we ignore the friend sitting right next to us. It’s easy to like someone’s post about coping with mental health, but it isn’t easy talking to a friend or a family member going through depression, and that’s where we draw the line of our own acceptability and want to offer help to others.
Among the many comments expressing sorrow for Sushant’s passing, there was one that stood out, it basically called depression overrated. However, it struck a chord. The issue in itself isn’t overrated but for a society like ours where mental health has never been a top priority, the constant banking on the issue does start to seem just way too much and the cause loses its meaning. Because when you start capitalising on these issues, they lose their integrity and sincerity.
Even if we admit or not, celebrity culture is a big thing for us. We’re either their fans, or we hate them with a passion. When artists are with us, we try to find ourselves in their art. They become about us, and the versions of us we have lost and found. They become both our escape and our reckoning. We bestow upon them the responsibility to elevate and disappoint us. We place upon them the burden of teaching us that there is more to life than just living. But when artists leave us, we try to understand them through their art. We try to tell the world that it was always about them and never about us. When they were alive, it was always about us.
But there is an ugly side to celebrity culture, where we put them on a pedestal and hold them accountable for anything and everything. With social media putting engagement centre stage, the criticism isn’t constructive anymore, it’s bullying and harassing. Celebrities don’t owe us anything. They’re an escape for us and we’re just an audience. But what a cruel audience we are.
This week, we all talked about mental health. But the problem is, we shouldn’t have to wait for someone to die to start talking about it.