It's more important than ever for celebs to be candid about mental health
When celebrities like Deepika Padukone share their personal battles with mental illnesses, they influence the way society views important issues.
Just like the rest of us, the country's top celebrities have all been told to stay at home during these strangest of times. In the light of the coronavirus, many Bollywood stars have begun to use social media to not only share their own COVID-19 lockdown routine, or how they are trying to support families in need, but they are also being candid about their own mental health journeys to remind people that they're not alone — actress Janhvi Kapoor recently penned a letter on Instagram, opening up about all the things she's learnt during the lockdown. Now, one of India’s highest-paid actresses, Deepika Padukone, has spoken about how looking after our mental health will be a key component in getting through this crisis, in a new interview.
"A lot of anxiety develops due to uncertainty; not knowing what is to come in the future. It is important to focus on the now, and one way to achieve that is by setting daily, and weekly targets. Let's not avoid formulating a routine just because there's a curfew. Some people can cope with it. But, for most people, getting into a routine, like going to bed and waking up at a defined time, and setting up a dedicated work space and holding virtual [meetings], is important. Set a system and become disciplined," Deepika Padukone told Mid-Day.
Approximately one in seven Indians experience some form of mental health condition, according to a 2019 report by the World Health Organisation, making mental illness among the most common health conditions in the country. According to the report, India accounted for nearly 15% of the global mental, neurological, and substance abuse-related disorders. Mumbai-based clinical psychologist, Dr Shilpa Aggarwal, says that the coronavirus is causing widespread panic not only to people who suffer from anxiety already, but also to the community at large. "The reasoning behind the anxiety is simple. Fear is a natural and adaptive response to situations like these, one of the basic survival mechanisms programmed to keep us alive. Yet when you couple fear with uncertainty, then that leads to anxiety," she says.
Mental illness can interfere with a person's daily life; however, most symptoms can be managed with a combination of medications and psychotherapy, says Dr Aggarwal. Although there have been advances in the general public's understanding and acceptance of mental illness in recent years, many people still have a negative view of those with a mental health condition, Dr Aggarwal notes. "Some of the harmful effects of stigma can include reluctance to seek help; lack of understanding by family, friends, and coworkers; fewer educational and employment opportunities; bullying or physical violence; and the belief that you can't improve your situation," she says.
At this point, like Deepika Padukone, who has been open about her challenges with anxiety and depression — she decided to talk about her battle with depression for the first time during the shooting of her hit film Piku (2015) — and even founded the The Live Love Laugh Foundation for destigmatizing mental health, several well-known celebrities have used their platforms to become outspoken advocates for mental health. For instance, in March 2019, actress Alia Bhatt opened up about her battle with mental illness, when the Raazi star spoke about how she had been dealing with anxiety for close to six months. Actress Anushka Sharma, and actor Varun Dhawan, too, have shared their experiences of living with anxiety, and depression, respectively.
When celebrities share their personal passions and battles, they influence the way society views important issues, says Dr Aggarwal. This is because celebrities can have a considerable psychological impact on regular people, she says. "People ascribe authority to popularity," says Dr Aggarwal, noting that someone who is in the public sphere, such as a celebrity, carries this sense of authority. She emphasized that hearing that a celebrity is in a similar situation makes those affected by a mental illness feel more normalised. She explains that those with mental health conditions don't feel singled out when celebrities talk about mental illness, which can often happen when family or friends try talking to them. This psychological impact helps to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and raise awareness, says Dr Aggarwal. She noted that a lot of times, the barrier for people getting treatment is the stigma due to fear of judgment and ostracism from society. Hence, by opening the door and starting the dialogue about mental health, celebrities are helping people get help sooner, she says.
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Dr Upasana Ghosh, a certified relationship expert from Kolkata, noted that the more aware people are, the less reluctant they will be to get help. "When you hear other people's stories of getting better, it just fuels your desire and your belief that you too can do it," she says. Dr Ghosh explains that celebrities acknowledging that they have a mental disorder may help people overcome their own fear of the stigma to get help. "Persons who are ill need hope and it always is helpful if someone who is successful speaks out and proves that 'Hey, I have a mental illness and I am coping fine,'" says Dr Ghosh. "That can be inspiring, especially at a time like this."
Celebrities specifically using social media platforms to advocate for mental health also reduces the stigma, says Dr Ghosh. "Social media makes it easier than at any other point in history to build movements and reduce stigma," she says, noting that social media can drive social change. This is because social media makes it easier for people to talk about their struggles, says Dr Ghosh, explaining that disclosing things online takes some of the fear and direct vulnerability away. "People through social media are way more prone to share their stories about their own mental illness and their own struggles than they are face to face," she says. She adds that this trend of celebrities advocating for the normalization of mental health is having a positive impact on society. "To hear somebody who is scrutinized in the public eye say, 'I don't care about the stigma, I'm going to say my piece anyway, in the hope that somebody can relate to this and benefit from it is empowering," says Dr Ghosh.