Deepika Padukone on depression: When I spoke up, I didn’t worry about my popularity
When Deepika Padukone first spoke about her struggles with depression and mental health in 2015, she shocked a nation which was not used to its celebrities being so vocal about their vulnerabilities and failings. Today, looking back, the Padmavat star says, she has no regrets for opening up. “I never thought about what people are going to think of me, will I be offered films or whether it will affect my popularity,” she said while releasing a survey titled ‘How India perceives mental health’ in the capital on March 24.
Published by the Live Love Laugh Foundation (TLLLF), which she founded in 2015 to champion the cause of mental health in India, the survey revealed that 47% of the 3,500 respondents in 8 cities across India use the word “retard” to describe people with mental illness. A steep 60% believed that people with mental illness “should have their own groups to avoid contaminating healthy people”.
“With the help of the foundation, we want to change the narrative around mental health in India. Why only Bollywood? We want everybody in influential positions in the country to speak out about these issues,” Deepika said.
But did she never worry about how her audience, or even Bollywood, would perceive her if she talked about depression? “Now that you’re asking me, maybe I should have since I just delivered a 300-crore hit (Padmavat). But no, I never thought about what people will think of me, or how it would affect my work or if I would be offered any films. None of these thoughts ever crossed my mind,”she said.
“I was only thinking about how I felt about the issue: There was a lot of stigma attached to it. I thought if I could save even one life by sharing my story, everything I set out to do would make sense. And today, when I see the kind of impact we’ve had in the lives of thousands of people, it is very gratifying,” Deepika added.
The survey, a five-month research project commissioned in July 2017, covered more than 3,500 Indians across eight cities of India, and aims to remove the stigma that is attached to mental health in India.
“Considering how deep-rooted this issue is, in terms of the stigma attached to it, the reluctance to seek help, or people’s perception towards those with mental illness, we still have a long way to go. India needs to focus on encouraging people to seek help,” she explains.
But isn’t it true that people from Hollywood are much more open about their battles with mental issues compared to Bollywood?
“We’re assuming that there are other people within my fraternity who have experienced it; I think a few who have (experienced it), they’ve come out and shared their journey and experience as well. Having said that, I do believe people who are in a position to influence others’ lives in a positive way should use that power. I also feel it’s important to associate with a cause that means something to you because that’s when it is organic, that’s when it is genuine. This is something I’ve experienced; I felt, which is why I talk about it. I don’t think it’s just about people coming out and speaking. And it’s not just about people in the film industry,” she explains.
She continues, “I think it eventually boils down to each person’s comfort level, how comfortable or confident they are about sharing their experience. I can say that it is extremely empowering once you share your journey, you kind of feel a weight off your shoulders, I mean that’s my personal experience.”
More facts and stories came out of the closet during a panel discussion on the findings, moderated by Dr Shyam Bhat MD, Trustee –TLLLF, which comprised Anna Chandy (TLLLF), Dr Soumitra Pathare (Centre for Mental Health Law and Policy at the Indian Law Society, Pune) and Siddharta Swarup (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation).
During the discussion, Dr Pathare joked about the stigma attached to the profession of psychiatry itself. “When I told my father that I wanted to do psychiatry, he told me, ‘For once in your life do something sensible please!’ My mother would tell her friends that I am doing ‘post graduation’. Even my kids would shy away from this topic at school, telling their friends that their father does ‘international work.’ But after Deepika has come into the picture, I have become more acceptable to my family - for example my niece and others in the family are more accepting of me because I get to meet Deepika!” said Dr Pathare.
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