To those of us who care enough, Deepika Padukone’s recent interview with Barkha Dutt on NDTV, is an indication that somewhere in India a red flag is up warning us that the Black Dog may have moved in permanently and is slowly making its presence felt especially in the fast changing urban environments. At 36% it is the highest rate of affliction anywhere in the world that reportedly results in over one lakh people taking their own lives.
At the peak of her successful career, Deepika was battling with the first signs of depression when she would wake up in the morning feeling ‘directionless’, not knowing where to go, weeping inconsolably without any reason, locking herself up in the make-up van and sometimes, just not wanting to get out of bed. There weren’t any tangible symptoms which helped her identify her condition and thus it became more difficult to admit that this was a clinical ailment.
Aside from the stigma associated with mental illnesses, it did not help that different sections of the media wrote it off as a promotional stunt before the release of a new movie. But, instead of a backlash, Deepika gracefully brought the focus back to the topic at hand saying, “I have been to hell and back and like I said, for me I have a larger issue at hand, if we are a nation that is most depressed in the world. There is a much much larger issue that we all need to sort of focus on and work towards.”
She admitted that she was lucky to have found support in her parents, a counsellor who was also a family friend and a psychiatrist whom she was consulting; although it is a very tough proposition to use one’s own mental strength to recover, as in this case the mind itself is ill. Her deepest resistance was towards the medication, which her parents convinced her was the same as taking medicines for a headache or a fever.
Another interesting dialogue which arose during the interview is whether creative people are predisposed to turbulent emotions and uncontrollable bouts of mood swings. Studies have shown that there might be a particular gene responsible in this case, which while blessing the person with a creative streak may also make them vulnerable to intense feelings of self-doubt and inner turmoil. It is akin to a dual edged sword, where on one hand it stimulates the creative juices and on the other hand it increases the artist’s suffering. It is always easy to write about depression as an offshoot of the creative industry and about leading lonely lives under the arch lights, however Deepika rightly asserts that depression as an illness isn’t unique to the creative professions. It could happen to anyone.
While Bollywood has been witness to mental illness and its wrongly associated stigmas in the past, with actresses Meena Kumari, Parveen Babi and more recently Jiah Khan falling prey, Deepika’s story about facing her demons is nothing less than inspiring in its endeavour to educate and inform people about this growing phenomena. Baring all and crying on national television, she gives us a glimpse into her private hell while entrusted with the responsibility of selling dreams and fantasies; Deepika says “….if you impact one life or save that one person from taking their life because they are so down and out, I think we achieved what we wanted to.”