When money can’t buy happiness
By Shyam A. Krishna, Senior Associate Editor
Dubai: Sushant, why did you do it? That plaintive cry echoed through Twitter and other social media platforms after the Indian actor committed suicide. Indians everywhere asked the same question. It’s a question families around the world must have asked of their loved ones who they ended their lives.
Depression and suicides are inextricably entwined. Sushant Singh Rajput’s death has hauled depression into sharper focus again. Thousands take their lives after losing the battle with depression. It takes a celebrity suicide for us to perk up and ponder.
Even among celebrities, some deaths have been shocking. Who would have thought actor and comedian Robin Williams waged war with the demons in his head. American actress Marilyn Monroe, American rock musician Kurt Cobain, British fashion designer Alexander McQueen, Swedish DJ Avicii, American chef Anthony Bourdain, American writers Ernest Hemingway and Sylvia Plath, and many other stalwarts were lost to the world in the prime of their careers. From artists to politicians, more than 150 celebrities ended their lives in the last two decades.
estimated people suffering from depression
Why do people take their lives? Surely, money can’t be the reason. Celebrities live in the lap of luxury, in the full glare of fame. Success need not translate into happiness. It may not keep out loneliness. Unhappiness and loneliness can stem from a range of reasons, including trauma and substance abuse.
Suicides are difficult to predict. Mental health problems are surely the root cause. It doesn’t manifest easily, which is why it’s often too late to avert a tragedy. What could drive people to believe that their lives are not worth living? Nobody knows what goes through their minds.
A history of horrors in India
The mental health crisis in India is severe. An estimated 56 million people suffer from depression, and 38 million from anxiety disorders, according to the World Health Organisation. One student commits suicide every hour, and mental distress is cited as a key reason.
Suicide is the second-highest cause of death among people between the ages of 15 and 29, according to a study in the medical journal Lancet. The national suicide rate was about 16 per 100,000 people in 2010.
Depression is a mental disorder. And mental disorders are frowned upon. There is a social stigma attached to it. In India, patients, regardless of their mental illness, were chained or locked away hidden in inaccessible rooms in the attic or basement, away from the prying eyes of neighbours and visitors. Others were dispatched to faraway mental hospitals or lunatic asylums, never to be visited by relatives. Some others were let loose to wander on the streets without food and shelter.
The treatments were a brutal blend of prayers and exorcism. Rituals to appease the gods were not uncommon, where sloka-chanting pandits or traditional healers wielded sticks to drive out the demons from a patient’s body.
This is in stark contrast to the facilities and treatments available. Superstitions abound despite the treatments found various Indian medicine systems like Ayurveda, Unani and Siddha
In Ayurveda, severe mental illness is known as Unmada. The disorders are categorised as apasmara (epilepsy), avasada (depression), manasavikara (neurosis), chittodvega (anxiety), and unmada (psychosis).
That was a long time ago. Health services have improved, but the stigma remains. Better treatment facilities have helped bring the mentally ill into the mainstream. They no longer are pariahs. But there’s still an acute shortage of trained medical personnel.
Mental illness in the ancient world
Psychiatric disorders have been around for thousands of years, dating back to post-stone-age cultures, and their treatments were explored through the Middle Ages.
In ancient Greece, physician Hippocrates theorised that mental illness resulted from an imbalance of four bodily fluids or humors: black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood. Excess black bile caused melancholy; the word derives from the Greek melan meaning black and chole meaning bile. Hippocrates may have been wrong, but theories of chemical imbalance remain, a report in Psychiatry Times says.
There’s evidence that besides Greece, ancient Indian, Chinese, Arabic, Hebrew, European and other cultures dealt with the sickness. Demonic possession was a basic assumption, so the treatment was mostly through shamans, sorcerers, magicians, mystics, priests, and other traditional healers, Kenneth J. Weiss, a psychiatrist based in Pennsylvania, US, wrote in the Psychiatry Times.
The practices continued to progress and regress through the centuries until the idea of dedicated institutions for the care of the mentally ill took root. The establishment of hospitals and asylums in the 16th century was the turning point in the treatment of mental sickness.
Depression is a mood disorder, characterised by a persistent feeling of sadness, loss or anger that disrupts a person’s life. It should not be confused with mood fluctuations people experience in their everyday life. Depression affects the way how a person feels, thinks and acts, leading to a loss of interest at work and in relationships.
Some symptoms include: feeling sad; loss of interest in favourite activities; changes in appetite followed by unintended weight loss or gain; poor sleep pattern, increased fatigue; agitation and restlessness; slowness in movements and speech; feeling worthless or guilty; poor levels of concentration; difficulty in decision-making and recurring thoughts of death or suicide.
More than 264 million people worldwide have depression, according to the World Health Organisation. One in 15 adults (6.7 per cent) experiences it every year, American Psychiatry Association says, adding that one in six people (16.6 per cent) will go through it at some stage of their life. And women are more prone to depression than men.
Common forms of depression
- Major Depressive Disorder, or Clinical Depression, manifests as persistent and intense sadness for long periods, affecting several areas of a person’s life. Patients may also feel that their life is worthless.
- Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD), or dysthymia, is a type of chronic depression that could last for years. The symptoms are not very severe, but there will be a distinct loss of interest in normal activities and a general feeling of inadequacy.
- Bipolar disorder, or manic depression, is characterised by extreme mood swings that include emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression). The risk of suicide is very high in these patients.
- Postpartum Depression (PPD) is generally seen in some new mothers following childbirth. Significant hormonal shifts result in drastic mood swings, anxiety, irritability and other symptoms.
- Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) is a severe and crippling form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). PMS and PMDD share symptoms, but PMDD causes extreme mood shifts that can disrupt a person’s work and life, and even damage relationships.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s linked to changes in seasons. It begins and ends at around the same time every year. SAD is believed to be triggered by a disruption in the circadian rhythm.
- Atypical Depression is very unlike other forms of depression. In these cases, patients’ depressed mood can brighten in response to positive events. Left untreated, the condition can lead to emotional and physical problems.
Why do people get depressed?
Depression can be caused by several factors that range from biological to circumstantial. Some of the common causes listed by Healthline are:
Family history of depression or another mood disorder raises the risk of developing depression.
Early childhood trauma affects the way the body reacts to fear and other stressful situations.
Brain structure: If the frontal lobe is less active, there’s a higher risk of depression.
Medical conditions such as chronic illness, insomnia, chronic pain, or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) increase the risk.
Drug and alcohol use, especially a prolonged history of abuse, puts a person at high risk.
Some common treatments for depression
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) allows people to explore new ways of behaviour by changing their thought patterns. Medical News Today says it can help reduce stress, cope with complicated relationships, deal with grief, and face many other common life challenges.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is effective against clinical depression, but it may not be enough to treat severe depression. WebMD says it can be useful when employed with other treatments, including medications.
Psychodynamic therapy helps patients explore the full range of their emotions, including feelings they may not be aware of.
Brain stimulation techniques like electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and transcranial magnetic stimulation are used when standard treatments fail to ease clinical depression.
Interpersonal therapy is typically a short-term treatment that focuses on social roles and relationships to evaluate specific problem areas in the patient’s life. It is found to be effective in treating adolescent depression.
What is like to live through depression and tackle it on a daily basis as an actress and a mother of three children?
By Manjusha Radhakrishnan, Chief Reporter
Former Dubai-based actress, Miss India and UN Equality Champion Celina Jaitly takes us into her journey of battling depression.
The Bollywood outsider, who was recently seen in a 45-minute film Seasons Greetings, revealed that she was battling depression long before filming Seasons Greetings. A triple tragedy in her life in 2017 where she lost one of her second set of twins after birth and the death of her vivacious mother and father around the same time triggered the dark phase in her life.
“How do you recover from such a tragic circumstances in your life … It was my worst nightmare and I lived through that,” said Jaitly.
Don’t shy away from getting treatment … In my experience, it is so important to get treatment so that your mind can function well. To be a good wife, a good mother and a good human being, your mind has to function well and only then you can reach you maximum potential as a human being
Jaitly joins the likes of stars like Deepika Padukone who have openly talked about their battle with depression and how it’s not something that you snap out of.
Actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide this month has brought the focus sharply back to the importance of mental health in this day and age of constant scrutiny.
Jaitly’s journey can be treated as a cautionary tale.
“Don’t shy away from getting treatment … In my experience, it is so important to get treatment so that your mind can function well. To be a good wife, a good mother and a good human being, your mind has to function well and only then you can reach you maximum potential as a human being,” said Jaitly. She moved from Dubai to Austria primarily due to her depression and was keen to have a change in pace and setting.
Jaitly writes exclusively for Gulf News about battling depression and being a survivor ….
“Getting better from depression is a lifelong commitment. Depression mostly doesn’t show and people carry it deep inside knowing that it is shattering their very being. I was constantly battling with acknowledging the fact that something was wrong in my life. I kept telling myself it was grief and it will pass. I would drop the kids to school and park my car in a lonely parking spot in Dubai and cry for hours. Once I was so overwhelmed that I ended up rearing a car from behind. I just stood there and sobbed… Perhaps it is this incident that made Peter and I decided to move from Dubai to Austria.
Depression due to grief is like an ocean … depression comes in waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm and sometimes it’s overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.
The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden. What I have learnt is that getting help is not a sign of weakness and eliminating all those who bring you down or add negativity in your life should be your first step. In my journey, that exercise of removing those negative elements helped. Don’t be shy to ask for help and it’s possible to win this battle.
I can sum up my battles by saying that: “The broken will always be able to love harder than most because once you’ve been in the dark, you learn to appreciate everything that shines”.
Nitin Mirani: “Boys don’t cry… enough”
First person account of an award-winning comedian Nitin Mirani who was raised in Dubai and suffered from depression.
His credits: Has entertained all over the globe and opened for comedian Trevor Noah. He has also shared the stage with Shah Rukh Khan
“There’s a stigma attached to mental health in general, but there’s an even bigger stigma attached to men who suffer from depression. Thanks to therapy, I realised that I was depressed for the longest time in my life due to a string of violent traumas that happened in my teenage years in Dubai. Those experiences in my life triggered my depression without my knowledge. But men do find it tough to acknowledge if they have mental health issues. Men are conditioned to believe that we are the sole providers and we are expected to be hyper-masculine and we take that to a toxic level. Being depressed is looked at as a sign of ultimate weakness, many are led to believe.
In my experience, depression does not have a gender or a class. There’s no rule that says a person in Bur Dubai will get depression, but a person living in Emirates Hills will not suffer from it.
For instance, tell a man to quit smoking for his own good and he may just shrug it off. But ask him to kick that habit for the sake of his two-year-old daughter or his lovely wife, he will then give it a shot. Men are unfortunately brain-washed to behave in limited ways when it comes to expressing emotions. Acknowledging that I was depressed was spurred by my lovely and understanding wife who made me find the will to get better. One day, I just realised that I couldn’t let her live with a depressed man who cried and re-visited his traumas from the past constantly. She deserved a man who is healthy in mind and body.
For years I didn’t even know I had depression. I am 41 now and it took me nearly thirty years of living with it before going to the therapist and admitting that whatever happened to me was not my fault. I used to be lethargic and not leave my house for twenty days at a stretch.I just couldn’t find the reason to be active and would reason with everything and have excuses for even getting up to shower. The reason was that “I thought I was just taking a break from life”. I would watch YouTube videos for nearly nine hours a day without really watching anything. Even getting out of bed was a task and felt unnecessary. Nothing excited me. I used to constantly play all the incidents my life in the past and try to come up with reasons and keep living in the past. There were so many What Ifs. However, around two years ago, my friend and fellow comedian Aakash Mehta noticed the signs in me and was convinced that I was depressed. I shot his idea down. But he said he knew I was depressed, because he suffers from depression too and convinced me that I need to at least visit a therapist once and I will always be grateful to him for that.
Unfortunately, our society has not been supportive and helpful. Tell them you are depressed and they go: ‘Chalo, let’s go have a pizza or let’s go down to Bangkok for a holiday.” They just brush it under the carpet. ‘Let’s go have a beer’ is another antidote if you tell the boys you are depressed.
I have opened shows for the likes of Trevor Noah and hearing thousands cheering and clapping at my jokes felt good while I was on stage. But the moment I got off it, I would feel very down, alone and lonely. There was a feeling of listlessness that I couldn’t define. In my experience, depression does not have a gender or a class. There’s no rule that says a person in Bur dubai will get depression, but a person living in Emirates Hills will not suffer from it. We have to normalise seeking help when depressed or suffering from anxiety. For years, I treated depression like that person who avoided treating that headache, until it became a migraine. Depression can creep up on you and you may never know. Therapy cannot fix all your problems, but you cannot answer if you don’t what those questions are. Therapy helps you define those questions. I have managed to get clarity after therapy.
As a child I was different. I was shy and introverted. I found out that I was dyslexic at 38 and I didn’t know that in school. Everybody in my school and around me assumed that my low grades were because I was dumb and I agreed with them because I found it hard to fight back. Without even knowing I have suffered anxiety and panic attacks all my life. I drank cold water and ate chunks of ice before going for that tuition class. My breathing would change and I had this weird pain and pressure at the back of my head.
It’s a miracle I am still around and still standing. Perhaps, being a comedian unknowingly helped me as my profession demanded that I am forced to make people laugh and I received acceptance in such large numbers. Til date I always keep 30 minutes after the show to allow the adrenaline charge to subside and my feelings to level up.
Depression is not a myth anymore. Having your mother’s aloo bhindi or parathas won’t cure depression.
The biggest issue I have noticed is that When a parent realises that their son or daughter is or might be suffering from depression, they immediately assume and wonder if their upbringing was faulty and get defensive. This ingrained attitude has to change. Calling all parents … say it with me: ‘It’s not your downfall that your child has depression and don’t label yourself as a bad parent.”
Helping your child seek therapy early is what will make you a good parent.
I had completely blocked many incidents that happened in my life. But my therapist made me re-visit those traumatic episodes. Acknowledging what happened to me was the first healing step. Addressing your past often helps. I give full credit to my wife who stood by me and allowed me to display all my emotions about it. There were days when I never felt anything in totality. I felt numb and then there were days when I was overwhelmed with emotions and grief and that continues till date but now my mind is stronger and am able to fight it out.
Depression is real. Feeling listless is real. Going back to the past relentlessly is real. But seeking help is real and therapy is the biggest small step one needs to take. Emotions don’t have a gender and they exist because it’s an outlet. Let’s re-write the narrative that ‘boys don’t cry’ to ‘boys don’t cry enough’.
— As told to Manjusha Radhakrishnan, Chief Reporter
What it feels like to be depressed and the signs to look out for
By Anjana Kumar, Staff Reporter
British expat Chris Haill, 53, attempted suicide on January 2. If it was not for timely help from friends and acquaintances who called Dubai Police and Dubai Ambulance to save him, Haill would not have been around to tell his tale.
Fast forward to today and the British expat has a message for people experiencing mental illness and having symptoms of depression. “Seek help immediately,” said Haill.
“There can be one to several triggers for depression. In my case, when I consulted with doctors, my trigger for depression went way back to when I was just 13 years old. I am now 53. And all these years I did not seek help and look what it did to me. I almost ended up taking my own life.”
Signs of depression
Haill said loss of confidence, inability to talk to people or face them, poor and indifferent sleep patterns, can be some of the signs of depression. There are more, he says. “If you constantly feel you are being watched by someone, if you feel you are unable to take decisions in life, if your weight fluctuates, you are unable to focus on things and generally there is a personality change in a person.”
He added: “If you are experiencing this for five weeks to two months — you need to see a doctor soon.”
How do you know when it is getting worse?
When you start planning your death and think about it seven to eight times a day, it is cause for concern. “When I attempted suicide I was trying to kill the disease. I was trying to kill the pain of the disease. I just wanted to get rid of it and thought the best way to do it is by taking my own life. Don’t reach that stage. Life is a gift and we should learn to cherish it all the way.”
Haill also said people who notice a change in the personality of a family member or friend must raise it with them. “Ask your friend or family member, is everything ok? Do you want to talk to me about it? Would you like me to take you to a doctor?”
Mental health is a community issue and everyone must pitch in to help another. “If it was not for my friends, I would not be alive today. So take notice of your loved ones.”
What a psychiatrist says about celebrity suicides
By Manjusha Radhakrishnan, Chief Reporter
Dubai-based psychiatrist Dr Sweta Shah believes that rejection, failures and abuse are a significant part of a celebrity’s life under the spotlight and Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s may not have been equipped with a sturdy internal coping mechanisms to combat it.
“Rejection, failure and abuse doesn’t happen to us civilians on a daily basis. We aren’t judged by one or two failures in our life and constantly reminded of it. But the same yardstick isn’t applied to the public figures … An actor needs to have higher rejection threshold and better coping skills and stress management skills. The nature of their industry demands that they have strong familial support,” said Shah, specialist psychiatrist in Unicare and JTS Medical Centre in an interview with Gulf News.
Rajput, who was found dead at his home on June 14 hanging from his ceiling, has triggered debates on the importance of mental health and how the actor was sidelined by industry bigwigs. The dominant narrative is that nepotism that plagues the Hindi film industry and the hostility towards Rajput, a Patna-born self-made star, played an indirect role in his suicide. He was 34 when he took the extreme step in his life.
Your self-esteem and confidence is shaken if you have no one backing you. If 60 per cent of the Hindi film industry doesn’t accept or acknowledge your worth, it counts as emotional bullying … And that’s where your resilience and temperament matter.
“If Sachin Tendulkar’s son applies to play cricket, he will have a higher chance of making it than an equally good cricket player. The same applies to Bollywood. This is where the psychological make-up of a person comes into the picture. It may not have been easy for Sushhant Singh to accept that he wasn’t taken into their inner circle … When his opportunities were taken away, his resilience and coping with failure came into play,” added Shah.
While Rajput’s death has left a vacuum among his adoring fans, there has been a surge in the number of patients who have been calling her and expressing gratitude for seeking help and medicines from her in a timely manner.
His death has been ‘an eye-opener for many patients’ under her watch.
“A few parents with young adults aged 18 or 19 have been calling me up and telling me to provide all support to their children and extend help to my young patients. Initially, they were resisting therapy and treatment, but now they seem to understand the gravity and importance of seeking help. Many patients have also called me telling they will continue their medicines even if they are feeling 70 per cent better. His death has started an important conversation,” said Shah.
Mental health and depression carries stigma and seeking help from a professional is still resisted by many. But the resistance is being worn thin ever since celebrity suicides became a talking point.
Dr Shah believes that having emotional and support from your own family and friends play a crucial role in handling rejections and failures in life.
“Your self-esteem and confidence is shaken if you have no one backing you. If 60 per cent of the Hindi film industry doesn’t accept or acknowledge your worth, it counts as emotional bullying … And that’s where your resilience and temperament matter. If you are sensitive to rejection, then things will affect you badly. You are letting others decide your self-worth and seeking validation outside of you.”
Rajput’s death has emboldened many in Bollywood to come forward and share their stories of emotional bullying and lynching.
Actors including Kangana Ranaut, Raveena Tandon, Abhay Deol and director Abhinav Singh Kashyap have come forward with their sordid tales of nepotism, toxic working culture and clannish behaviour among Bollywood power-brokers.
In the wake of Rajput’s suicide that has rattled Indian households, Dr Shah urged everyone not to look at suicide as a ‘solution to any world problems and stressors’.
The irony is highlighted when Rajput’s last blockbuster in 2019 ‘Chhichhore’ saw the actor play a progressive dad to a teenager son who attempts suicide. His monologue from the film telling his son that suicide is not the answer to life throwing your curve balls is going viral right now.
“Since Sushant’s last movie gives a message against Suicide on a social platform and when he himself succumbs to same, it’s a very conflicting message to the youth. Especially for those whom he’s being like a role model or icon,” she added.
Celebrities get talking about mental health
By Bindu Rai, Entertainment Editor
The World Health Organisation estimates that close to 800,000 people die from suicide each year, making it the third leading cause of death in 15-19-year-olds last year.
The dialogue over mental health has long remained a taboo subject, which is perhaps why more and more celebrities have taken the charge to release the conversation from its invisible chains and go public with their personal battles.
Bollywood star Deepika Padukone, who has long been an advocate about mental health, has renewed the dialogue with her legion of fans in light of actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death, who died by suicide on June 14 at his residence in Mumbai.
Aside from posting daily messages across her social media platforms to educate people about depression, Padukone was also awarded the Crystal Award at the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year for spreading awareness about the importance of mental health. The actress started using her voice for good since 2015 when she went public with her own hidden battle with depression. The conversation also resulted in the birth of ‘The Live Love Laugh Foundation’ (TLLLF) that aims to educate and heal those battling the disease.
Padukone is not the only famous face to go public with her struggles and attempt to remove the stigma attached to mental health. In 2016, British singer Adele opened up about battling postpartum depression and struggling with the use of alcohol in an intimate interview with Vanity Fair magazine.
In the tell-all, Adele openly admitted she felt like she had made “the worst decision” of her life after having her son, Angelo, who’s now eight. She says she eventually had to spend some time alone in order to overcome her postpartum depression and return to public life.
Adele’s postpartum journey was followed by model and TV star Chrissy Teigen’s confession in 2017 that she too had battled post-partum depression since the birth of her daughter Luna. Teigen penned an essay for Glamour magazine that she has been “unhappy” for much of 2016 and discovered she was suffering from depression, taking the aid of antidepressants and therapy to help her heal.
I definitely had anxiety. My anxiety manifests as depression so I would get really depressed. My brain is like a hamster on a wheel and it won’t come off, I’ve been managing it my entire life
Oscar-winner Reese Witherspoon may be known for playing the perky lead in films such as Legally Blonde but her personal battle with post-partum depression has been a closed chapter until she went public with it earlier this year.
The mother of three spoke up during an interview on a podcast, she opened up about her battles with mental health over the years, admitting she first had therapy at the age of 16. “I definitely had anxiety. My anxiety manifests as depression so I would get really depressed. My brain is like a hamster on a wheel and it won’t come off, I’ve been managing it my entire life,” said the 44-year-old. “I was 23 years old when I had my first baby and nobody explained to me that when you wean a baby, your hormones go into the toilet. I felt more depressed than I’d ever felt in my whole life. It was scary.”
Women maybe me more susceptible to depression according to health experts, however, men too have spoken up about their mental health battles. In 2019, ‘Shazam!’ actor Zachary Levi spoke to Gulf News during the Middle East Film and Comic Con, chronicling his personal struggles.
“I got to the age of 37 and I just fell through the door. I had gone to some therapy prior to that, going through couples counselling in my previous marriage and trying to get to the bottom root of things that were going on in my life that were making me unhappy,” the 39-year-old Hollywood actor said in the interview.
Levi further stated: “… I genuinely wasn’t sure I wanted to live anymore. I found this incredible place and, for three weeks straight, I did all of the therapy.”
While Levi confessed the road to recovery was hard but he made it through, few knew about Hollywood actor and former WWE star Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s very private battle with depression in 2018.
“Struggle and pain is real. I was devastated and depressed. I reached a point where I didn’t want to do a thing or go anywhere. I was crying constantly,” Johnson said in a statement.
The actor’s troubled childhood played a large part in affecting his health; before he hit the big leagues, Johnson suffered many a setback, including watching his mother try to commit suicide in front of him when he was 15 years old.
I’ve been through my ups and downs. I have experienced depression. I have experienced confusion, as we all do. It’s a very normal thing. We should be very casual about it when we speak about it
In Bollywood, actor Hrithik Roshan also took the brave decision to open up about his battle with depression and appealed to fans to remove the stigma associated with mental health.
“I’ve been through my ups and downs. I have experienced depression. I have experienced confusion, as we all do. It’s a very normal thing. We should be very casual about it when we speak about it,” Roshan told PTI in 2016. “I have experienced issue in my own personal life, we all go through ups and downs. The ups are important, the downs are [also] important because you evolve through both of them.”
The actor said he has seen many of his friends silently battle depression and other mental issues, which prompted him to dig deeper into the matter and share his personal journey with others to help them as well.
The ‘window of hope’ initiative has adopted a more progressive approach to mental health and rather than arresting people, Dubai Police is looking towards providing psychological counselling to victims.