Death is always hard to cope with but never more so than when it visits someone young and with everything to live for. Which is why even though I never knew Jiah Khan (no, I hadn’t seen any of her movies, either), her suicide left me shocked. What is it that makes a beautiful young girl, with her whole life ahead, want to kill herself?
However much we quiz her mother or pore over the last exchange of text messages with her boyfriend, the sad truth is that we will never really know what led Khan to take that extreme step. Was it because her career had hit a dead end? Was it because her love life had become bumpy of late? Or was it something else entirely? We can speculate all we want but we will never know for sure.
The only thing that is beyond doubt is that it must have been black despair that made Khan hang herself in her Juhu home, late one night. The world must have seemed like an impossible place to negotiate; reality must have gotten too much to bear; and the black hole that is depression must have swallowed her whole.
Depression. It’s not something we ever talk about, is it? Or even acknowledge as a medical condition that needs serious treatment. However, every now and then, we all complain about being 'depressed’. As in, “I’m so depressed about the way Indian politics is going.” “God, that movie was really depressing.” Or even, “How depressing is this weather?”
But that’s not what depression, in the clinical sense, is. It descends on you like a black fog, which obliterates all reason, and leaves you feeling as if everything is pointless. That is what led British actor Stephen Fry to attempt suicide last year. He tried to kill himself with an overdose of pills and vodka in his hotel room on location and was saved only because his producer found him in time.
Paris Jackson, the teenage daughter of Michael Jackson, was also recently rushed to hospital after a suspected overdose. In her case, though, she herself called the suicide helpline after slashing her wrists, because she wanted to be saved. So while this will be called a ‘cry for help’ rather than a serious suicide bid, there is no denying the pain and grief that causes such behaviour (even if we dismiss it as an obstreperous teenager acting out).
But to deal with depression, we first have to recognise it, when it reveals itself in our midst. And then, we have to destigmatise it so that those who suffer from it feel no shame in coming forward and asking for help. It really doesn’t help to dismiss mental health issues as being all-in-your-head. Yes, they are all-in -the-head, but that doesn’t make them any less real, or less life-threatening.
As Stephen Fry explained in a recent interview: “Now, you may say, why would someone who has got it all, be so stupid as to end it all? That’s the point, there is no ‘why’; it’s not the right question. There’s no reason. If there was a reason for it, you could reason someone out of it, and you could tell them why they shouldn’t take their own life…” No, you can’t reason someone out of a suicidal spiral, but you can treat them. It could be with psychoanalysis – what used to be called the talking cure – or with medication to treat such conditions as bipolar disorder. But to do that, you first have to acknowledge that depression is, in fact, an illness. Only once you have identified the problem can you treat the symptoms.
So, the question to ask when a young woman like Khan kills herself is not ‘why’ she did it; but ‘how’ she could have been persuaded to choose life instead.
From HT Brunch, June 16
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