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Will Sushant Singh Rajput's death de-stigmatise discussions on mental health?

The ‘Kai Po Che’ and ‘MS Dhoni’ actor who had spoken in the past about the mental well-being of those in the film world, died by suicide on Sunday

Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput died by suicide in Mumbai on Sunday. He was 34.
Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput died by suicide in Mumbai on Sunday. He was 34.

This morning, actor Sushant Singh Rajput died by suicide at his Mumbai home. He was 34. The news broke in the afternoon, with the film world and the public at large reacting with shock and sadness.

Several unconfirmed reports have said that Rajput was in treatment for depression. DCP Pranay Ashok, spokesperson, Mumbai Police, said in an official statement: “Sushant Singh Rajput has committed suicide, Mumbai Police is investigating. Police has not found any note yet." The news comes less than a week after the death of his ex-manager Disha Sailan, on 8 June (the police are looking into whether that was suicide or accidental death).

The actor was last seen in three films last year: the surprise hit Chhichhore (a film which deals with the familial pressures that might lead to suicide), the critically-acclaimed Sonchiriya and the online release Drive. He achieved early fame on TV before breaking through in film with the Chetan Bhagat adaptation Kai Po Che. Some of his other roles include the lead in the tart comedy Shudh Desi Romance, the flamboyant period crime film Detective Byomkesh Bakshy, and a popular turn as cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni in M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story.

Rajput had spoken about the mental-being of those in his profession in the past. In an interview to Hindustan Times in July 2017, he said, “Who says actors are maintaining their mental health? That’s a wrong belief. The most important thing that an actor could do to protect himself from all these things (pressures, demands, paparazzi culture, etc) is just to know why a person is doing what he is doing." In November 2019, he tweeted a Gillette ad about the importance of men giving free rein to their feelings, writing: “Men have emotions too so don't be shy to cry. It's okay to let it out and not hold it inside. It's not a weakness but a sign of strength. Be man enough to feel. Feeling is human."

Several of Rajput’s collaborators and admirers expressed their grief on social media

There were also appeals made to report the death responsible and to be sensitive to the mental health of people reading the news.

Movie stars have been speaking about de-stigmatising discussions around mental health and depression. Rajput’s death will hopefully bring these issues into the light, as also the need for sensitive reporting of such cases.

On Twitter, the Centre for Mental Health Law and Policy (@CMHLPIndia) posted seven guidelines for covering celebrity suicides in a sensitive way. These include pointers such as not revealing details and location, not publishing suicide notes, and focusing on the positives of the celebrity’s life.

“Ask yourself what public interest is being served by providing such details," says Dr Soumitra Pathare, Director of CMHLP, while pointing out that a film star’s demise affects millions of fans and can be triggering for various reasons. However, he is quick to point out that if someone is feeling suicidal, it always doesn’t indicate that they are suffering from a mental illness. “Many people who die by suicide, unfortunately respond to very difficult life circumstances in this manner without prior history of a psychological illness," he adds.

Suicide is preventable and celebrities like Elton John, Oprah Winfrey and closer home, Deepika Padukone and Anushka Sharma, have overcome their struggles with mental health by seeking professional intervention.

Apart from qualified professionals, there are helplines operating across India that you can reach out to if you are struggling with mental health. Here is a list of five that offer their services free of cost.

Sahai: +91-80-25497777 (Monday- Saturday, 10am-8pm)

Sneha: +91-44-24640050 and +91-44-24640060 (all days and hours)

iCall: +91-22-25521111 (Monday-Saturday, 8am-10pm)

Parivarthan Counselling Helpline: +91-7676602602 (Monday-Friday, 4-10pm)

Aasra: +91-22-27546669 (all days and hours)

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