Just when we were remembering how Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell would have turned 53 had it not been for his untimely death, his close friend, Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington said good bye too – from an apparent suicide shadowed by depression. While several unfinished lives are being snatched away from the clutches of their prime, one question remains: How many more should leave us before we dismiss the taboo surrounding mental health and open our minds and arms to those battling with depression?
Bengaluru band, Peepal Tree’s guitarist and vocalist Tony Das heard about Bennington when he put up a post remembering Cornell’s birthday. While his followers took to note just how ‘messed up’ this is, Tony notes that it might be especially hard for those in the limelight. “When every little move you make is analysed and deconstructed, it’s hard to have any sort of perceived sense of privacy,” he says.
Celebrities who are also regular people can be depression-prone too. “People forget that there’s something such as high function depression – the person is working hard, it seems like they have everything, and looks okay on the outside. But chances are that they can’t even accept it,” says Mahesh Natarajan, a counsellor with Inner Sight. “The most common advice is to get busy, but that can put them in a cycle of working extra hard and extra long, and takes a toll on them. Especially when you’re renowned, there’s so much pressure that comes with the success that your ability to seek help becomes limited,” he notes. Chairperson of Bengaluru-based The Live Love Laugh Foundation started by Deepika Padukone, Anna Chandy agrees. “When individuals are in the limelight they’re not given the space and privacy to cope and heal. Society seems to not account that they are as vulnerable as anyone else. ‘It’s all in your head’ is a comment that is often passed, because unlike physical illness where there are overt symptoms, in depression the symptoms are not obvious. It is important that ALL individuals in society, irrespective of being considered successful or not, are given the privacy they require,” she says, working for a foundation that aims to reduce social stigma and create awareness around mental health.
Bennington fans are especially torn that they lost another brilliant mind to the same clichéd story – fame, creativity, substance abuse, desperation and suicide. Sanchana Krishnan, a city curator of Living Stories Vol 1: MEntal Health, a Human-Library believes that it’s important to realise that there are several realities that coexist side by side – mental illness being one amongst them. “Start accepting yourself for who you are and be kind to your own self when you are struggling, so you are not tempted to be cruel to someone else. And above all, understand that mental illness is not an excuse for being an asshol*. Please don’t confuse the two. But don’t accuse people of being destructive without knowing their struggles,” she says.
What can help take this conversation forward? “Open discussions will help educate, sensitise and promote the society to view the issue from a fresh lens and expand their frame of reference around the shame and stigma associated with depression,” says Anna. Mahesh believes that it’s important to stay connected and watch out for each other, because, in the end it DOES matter....