The Slow Storm

(TW – Mental Health, Suicide)

Like many, I read the heartbreaking news of one of my favourite actor’s death today. It was a little more difficult to process because it was a case of suicide. The comments section was understandably flooded with “yet another bright life lost” and “gone too soon”. The WhatsApp suicide-shaming conversations was another story though. Times like these make it perfectly clear why mental health remains one of the most misunderstood and under-spoken subjects in India and more importantly, in our homes.

I personally have seen more people dismiss or shy away from mental health conversations more than they do with politics, violence or sex. Not because it makes them uncomfortable, but because they do not see it is a priority. Their insensitivity and dismissal blocks any scope of conversation. Parents blame children. Children blame parents. And we’d all rather give our two cents but make efforts to address it together in our homes.

As a young Indian, here are two common responses I keep hearing –

Mental health is more of a fad for the “new” generation and has a lot to do with the way we “youngsters” live their lives.

First things first, I feel most people continue to confuse depression with stress. Stress, of course can be lifestyle or situation-induced and at some point, may even lead to depression but they are still very different from each other.

Mental health, suicide, anxiety and depression have always been a concern for people across decades and age-groups. Read history, talk to your elders and you’d know. However, the much-needed conversations and resources around mental health have only recently began to come up. Still, it has nothing to do with this or that generation. Period.

Old, middle-aged, youngsters, children - anybody is susceptible to mental health issues. And almost all of them battle it in silence. Until they reach a breaking point one day. Suicidal thoughts do not manifest at any one specific point. They can be fleeting or underlying. For most, suicide is an escape. And that should be enough for anyone to imagine the magnitude of suffering that a person may be enduring.

There is no doubt that we live in a world which has become a much more complex and difficult place to be in. For so many people, the basic struggle is to just “to survive”. And just when you think you are near to grasping it, the world shifts some more. And for that alone, we need to be more empathetic to each other. Basic.

Mental Health, What?

I really wish our education system taught us this because I have heard some very frustrating responses on suicide from both moderately and highly educated people around me. Such people, at times, end up becoming a trigger or a source of stress for others. If you do not know how to help, the least you can do is stay put. Do not exude your indifference or insensitivity through your words. Knowingly or unknowingly. Because one day, you might end up saying something really wrong to a person who is struggling with a very low point in their lives.

Second, why do rich and successful people kill themselves?

Successful or unsuccessful, we are all still humans. And humans struggle. You’d think mental health has parameters to it, it doesn’t. Successful people commit suicide, sometimes at the peak of their careers. People facing setbacks do it. Farmers do it. Housewives do it. Children do it. When you see them as an individual case, it’s easy to slap a label on it and lay a finger on any one reason. But when you see it as a phenomenon, you realise it’s not that straight a case.

People struggling with mental health battle a wide range of emotions like loneliness, fear, confusion, anger, guilt or shame. Each of these are powerful black-holes and can horribly lead to a downward spiral. Often to a point of no return.

Money is a resource, yes. Even a source of comfort, no doubt about it. However, it does not serve as a coping mechanism. Neither does success. Depression, anxiety or any mental illness can hit any individual. And when it does, it doesn’t see you as generation x, y or z. It doesn’t see you as somebody’s partner, child or employee. While these can be reasons to be grateful for IF AND ONLY IF they become your support-systems in need. A person does now owe it you to be always happy or thankful because they are related to you. Please realise, it is not about you. It is about them.

If you’ve spoken to a person who is suffering, you’d realise that most of the times, all they are looking for is some kindness and a space to be heard or seen. That’s all it takes for someone to start healing. Unfortunately, our society has turned healing into a competition. Everybody has very different endurance levels and what works for one, may not always work for the other.

Depression can completely rip a person off their self-esteem, self-love and often make people lose sight of anything worth living for. You can’t force anyone to feel optimistic or thankful about their lives when they are struggling to even survive. And to shame people for not coping up well or fast enough is equally terrible and further adding to the problem.

And yet, if you continue to slap your “what issues could you probably have” or “you have no issues as compared to that xyz who has it far worse” or “don’t be so weak” or a even a mere “buck up, don’t just throw your life away” – trust me, you really need more exposure on mental health. Inspite of your education and experience. And you definitely need to speak and listen to more people in your life.

Someone once said to me “it’s like I am drowning and asking for help from under the water and suffocating as I do it. But I don’t see anything or anyone that I can cling onto for as far as I can see.”

Happily ever after?

Lockdown has been hard on everyone. All of us are trying to cope with change. Some people are struggling to be alone, others are adjusting to be with people full time. Some are struggling with not working, others are overburdened. Being alone or being full-time at home is leading to so many people over-thinking or getting anxious and at times, even feel nothing, almost become empty. People are trying to figure out how to overcome the uncertainty around their families, jobs and futures.

It is great if you are in a happy or secured place. That may not be the case with everyone. And opposite to what you think, people with seemingly great lives can be suffering too. Seeking help or offering help are not easy. But it is a start. And in my own experience, it has saved lives in ways you can’t ever imagine. Check on each other. Take care of one another.

Be kind. Be mindful. Be there for each other.

-A

Sometimes even to live is an act of courage – Lucius Annaeus Seneca

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