Disclaimer: By 'cool' we don't mean trendy, we mean acceptable.
On his eponymous chat show Karan Johar has a penchant for engaging his celebrity guests in banter of the frivolous kind.
But when he himself was being interviewed by journalist Barkha Dutt on NDTV, Johar gave what has been called his frankest and most honest interview yet.
Johar has a penchant for emotional frankness, at least as a writer. For his blog on the same news outlet's website, he has tackled issues like his sex life, online bullying, facing up to criticism etc.
In the now widely viewed interview with Dutt, however, Johar has gone a step further.
Gone is the flippant, witty Johar, as he lays bare his battle with depression.
As per his comments in the interview, Johar has been suffering from (and seeking help for) clinical depression for at least the past two years now. He had been prescribed medication for the condition, and it has just been three months since it was discontinued.
"You don't feel happiness, or excitement, or any such emotion. I went through that and nobody other than you knows what you're really going through," Johar told Dutt in the televised interview, adding that being "44, and lonely" was some part of what had led to his depression. He described making trips simply so he could avoid meeting people he knew, "sleeping long hours in hotel rooms" instead.
The good news, as Johar shared, was that he was finally feeling upbeat again.
Since that interview was pulicised, there have been several news stories and thinkpieces, not just about the specific revelations Johar made in the course of it, but also about depression and mental health.
How do you identify the signs and symptoms of depression? Who should you talk to? What avenues are available for a depressed individual to seek help?
These are just a few of the aspects of dealing with depression that have been highlighted in the light of Johar's admission.
The subject received similar attention when Deepika Padukone went public about her battle with depression last year. Deepika described how, over 2014, she battled exhaustion and a feeling of 'emptiness' over several months, until she was finally diagnosed with depression. Seeking help from mental heath experts finally aided Deepika in overcoming the issue.
A similar effect occurred when rapper Honey Singh spoke about his bipolar disorder, and how it had made him a near recluse from the entertainment industry. Coming just days after TV actor Shama Sikander had shared news about her bipolar diagnosis, Singh's story chronicled the manic highs and lows of his condition, the fight to find the right doctors and treatment, and ultimately, the 18-month-long road to recovery.
One of the commendable thing all of these celebrities have done when they chose to come out in the open about their battles with mental health, was speak the right language.
In Deepika's instance, this meant highlighting the stigma that is associated with any mental illness of any kind. Her narrative emphasised the difference filial support, expert help and medication under a doctor's guidance made in an individual's battle with depression.
Karan Johar's admission also emphasises that recovering from depression could be a long and winding journey, one that may take years, and one that requires intervention from those who have expertise in the field.
Similarly, Honey Singh's searingly candid interview showed just how serious conditions like bipolar disorder could be, the havoc it wreaked on an individual's mental and emotional well-being.
Why is celebrities like Johar, Deepika and Honey Singh talking about their battles with mental illness a commendable move?
Because, as Mumbai-based counsellor Divya Srivastava pointed out in this column for Firstpost, 'even in urban India, mental health is a topic that (rarely) made it to the discussion-table; and if it needed mention, it was only spoken about, rather uncomfortably, in hushed tones'.
She quoted a paper published in the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene that said: 'Stigma towards, and discrimination against, people with mental disorders is an important barrier to mental health service utilisation in India. It contributes to delays in seeking care, impedes timely diagnosis and treatment for mental disorders, serves as an impediment to recovery and rehabilitation, and ultimately reduces the opportunity for fuller participation in life.'
"The first step has already been taken by a courageous few who have brought the issue of mental health in the limelight, but it is up to us now to walk the rest of the path," Srivastava wrote in her column, that included an assessment of the shortfall in mental health services in India, and how that was making care inaccessible for the thousands of Indians who needed it.
Author Jerry Pinto, who recently edited and compiled A Book of Light: When A Loved One Has A Different Mind (real life stories about dealing with a family member's mental illness), also told Firstpost in an interview that: "Certainly people have more information, even a simple thing like Deepika (Padukone) coming out and talking about her depression has been really important in spreading awareness in the country. There is too much silence".
In 2012, the National Crime Records Bureau published statistics to the effect that there were 15 suicides in India every hour, or 370 suicides daily. India has the highest rates of major depression in the world (around 36 percent) as per a World Health Organisation report — we've been called the 'most depressed country'.
Against a backdrop like this, staying quiet about mental health is no longer an option, least of all for celebrities who have a platform that millions of people are willing to tune in to.
And so, Deepika Padukone, Karan Johar, Honey Singh, or any other individual who speaks up about mental illness and contributes to an open, informed conversation about it, deserves not just understanding, but also appreciation.
First Published On : Sep 27, 2016 13:26 IST