There have been quite a lot of conversations around mental health in the past few months, specifically after the recent incident of the late actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s alleged suicide. While the matter remains sub judice and news channels run panels throughout the day unpacking various elements related to the case, I came across a piece of Breaking News run by a mainstream English TV news channel where they showed two clips of the late actor and claimed that since the actor looked happy with his family, playing with dogs and showed “no visible signs of a person undergoing massive mental trauma”, he could not be depressed or more specifically, there were no signs of depression on his face.
I have kept myself a bit aloof from consuming news related to this incident because of the sheer triggering nature of the incident and the news reportage that has followed since. However, when I came across this clip on the official Twitter handle of the channel, I could not contain my thoughts as a person living with depression. I did not know and do not know about the status of the late actor’s mental health and would not comment on it at all. However, the news report talked about mental health in a certain way and I have a lot of thoughts about that.
I have been living with depression for almost three years now and the journey has been filled with ups and downs. There have been changes in my treatment, in terms of taking medication and then stopping them after some time, going for therapy, exploring different kinds of therapies and so on. However, one thing that has remained constant in these past three years is people’s reaction when I come out with my depression to them.
I am what people would easily term as an extroverted person with a pretty large group of friends, who likes to meet new people, make some silly jokes, check out the latest food spots in town and even travel a bit. More often than not, I’ve come across people who tell me that, “Oh, I could never imagine you have depression. You look so fine. You are always so excited and bubbly. You don’t look depressed.” The fact that I also work on creating awareness around mental health and conduct Instagram live sessions and record videos with ease has not really helped my case.
I am certainly aware and accept as a mental health advocate and activist that there are going to be so many times when I will have to teach people about depression, not because of some holy duty but because of sheer selfishness and survival. I can’t be living around people who have a horrible understanding of mental health. You see, such people are walking ticking time bombs for me as a person living with depression. I know this is unfair and yet, there is only so much that one can even do. The expectation that people put on people living with depression to perform their depression a certain way is absolutely horrendous and everything that is wrong with the existing mental health discourse in our country. Most of our popular culture represents people living with depression in stereotypical ways. The flat characterisation that we draw of people living with depression is absolutely unjust and only adds to the existing stigma and myths around mental health in India.
My experiences with depression have been diverse and I keep reminding myself and people that depression is only a part of my existence and that it is not the be-all and end-all of my life. I do not spend the twenty four hours of my day crying and howling in the corner of a dark room with kohl smudged all over my face. I do not always dress up shabbily and have not yet burned my entire makeup kit! Of course, there are bad days when I do not feel like getting up from the bed or even taking a shower or brushing my teeth, but those are bad days. They come and go. Even on such bad days, there can be moments when I would pass a smile at some meme that I see or laugh at a joke with a friend over phone. I do experience a wide range of emotions in one single day, like any other person.
Having said this, yes, I do understand that depression looks different on every one and everybody’s reaction to the bad days and the condition are different and depend on a lot of factors. Keeping all that in mind, I was quite shocked and disappointed at the kind of mental health discourse being pushed by a mainstream news channel. When we are at one hand having extremely important conversations around the journalistic ethics of reporting suicide and the correct usage of language, we have news reporters and anchors playing mock clinicians and declaring the lack of depression in a person’s life by looking at two videos. As much as the news channels want to dig the story deeper, I am certain that this process need not include flouncing the basics of mental health discourse with such irresponsibility!
To put it shortly, depression does not have a face. It is not all tattered and shattered and disheveled all the time. Since I am no mental health professional and my work on mental health advocacy is driven through my lived experience of depression, I have decided to delve into my vulnerabilities and put out a few images of mine, rather selfies, that I clicked when my depression was at its worst. (For the most part, I was on medication and going through intense therapy sessions weekly and was also suicidal for quite a while) I specifically chose selfies (except one, which again I asked a cousin to click for me) for this because these are the moments that I chose to capture, moments where I chose to pose a certain way, smile a certain way, look a certain way. These are not forced group photographs with fake smiles.
I would leave it up to you to decide whether you can gauge from these photographs if there are any signs of depression on my face.