World Suicide Prevention Day: It’s Easy To Get Fooled By The Happy Exterior That Hides The Turmoil Within
In the wake of Sushant Singh Rajput’s demise by suicide, a lot of his fans and acquaintances came forward, remarking that the actor looked so happy, he couldn’t have been depressed. Someone shared a picture of him at Disneyland, another pointed out how his movie, Chhichhore, had done so well, and he was signing more movies. Another said, he was such a scientific, philosophical mind, always smiling, and was even in a relationship. How could such an intelligent, talented, beloved actor be struggling with mental health issues so strong that they might’ve reportedly driven him to suicide? But wait, haven’t we seen this script before? Kondapalli Sravani, Jiah Khan, Pratyusha Banerjee, Kushal Punjabi, Silk Smitha, Preksha Mehta, Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, Alexander McQueen, Robin Williams, Chester Bennington…. Turns out, their deaths shocked not just their fans but their near and dear ones too. On World Suicide Prevention Day, it is important to understand that a happy face can hide unfathomable turmoil within….
The world’s at their feet, and they’re still unhappy?
We think it is easy to quantify feeling happy or alive. We think this contentment would be derived from having enough money, being famous, becoming successful, finding true love, or getting rich. And it is possibly why when we see celebrities, social media influencers, high-fliers and anyone that we envy, we assume they have everything so they must be happy. It’s not our fault, sometimes. Because a smiling face can hide a lot of the inner turmoil that people are going through.
In the Episode 3 of Amazon Prime Video’s Modern Love series, Anne Hathaway plays a woman suffering from bipolar disorder. She was incredibly happy and glowing one day, would kick ass at her job, would get all her chores done, and even snag a cute guy’s digits while out grocery shopping, just because he thought she looked like a beautiful, bright ray of sunshine. And the very next moment, she’d be unable to do any of those things, heck, even get out of bed, or answer the supermarket guy’s phone as he wondered why this beautiful girl stood him up on their first date. Nobody in her life knew what she was going through. And it wasn’t until her depressive episodes almost destroyed her professional life that Lexi decided to confide in a coworker, who helped her come to terms with it.
You see, she had everything—she was breathtakingly beautiful, had a high-flying job she was great at, and romance was just ripe for the taking. If this scenario played out in India, I bet you there would be a few aunties who’d dismiss it as laziness. “Kuch nahi hua hai! Achhi khaasi toh ho? Kya takleef hai?” And that there would shut down any and all lines of communication between her and the people who should know that she needs help. And it is probably not something that she can do alone.
Suicide can be sudden and without warnings
When a celebrity dies by suicide, their fans cannot fathom what it could’ve been that might’ve brought them to the edge and them pushed them over. Thus, the conspiracy theories begin, as we see happening right now. Because we rarely want to see our heroes as weak, and mental health struggles are stigmatised as weaknesses of mind and character. But often times, suicidal thoughts might not even have a basis in a corporeal mental health issue.
The Harvard Health Blog quotes Dr. Michael Miller, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, saying “Many people who commit suicide do so without letting on they are thinking about it or planning it.” These thoughts can be triggered by a sudden crisis in their life, a burnout, a traumatic episode, and a number of other things.
What’s even more troublesome is that people with suicidal thoughts are good at hiding their feelings quite well, under a mask of smiles and normalcy. “Many people never let on what they are feeling or planning. The paradox is that the people who are most intent on committing suicide know that they have to keep their plans to themselves if they are to carry out the act. Thus, the people most in need of help may be the toughest to save,” says Dr. Miller.
Ever heard of smiling depression? It isn’t exactly a classified disorder, but psychotherapists tend to use this term to describe individuals who experience high-functioning depression, according to PsychCentral. They’ll put on a smiling face, but internally, they would be battling depressive emotions, loneliness, a profound sadness, and a sense of detachment from the reality around them. Particularly, people who are in ‘hero’ positions such as breadwinners of the family, mothers, people in leadership positions, tend to go through smiling depression, because they don’t want to let others know what they’re going through since they think it could be interpreted as weakness.
Smiling depression can also often go undiagnosed because the people suffering from it are very good at hiding it. It could escalate to a point of harbouring suicidal thoughts, and still their close ones would not know that this person was depressed.
We need to talk… about normalising talking mental health and empathy
One of the biggest reasons that we’re in denial of and refuse to admit that we suffer from mental health issues is the stigma attached to it. In a country like India, where the Victorian era of repression of self never really went away, talking about one’s feelings is so intensely discouraged. The sufferer in silence trope, especially in parental figures or obedient children is so common. No wonder, people suffering from these issues don’t want to sabotage their family’s ‘honour’ or their own ‘reputation’ by talking about their problems.
But. But. But. We need to talk about them. Normalising any and all conversations about mental health between amongst all age groups and all relationships is important. And so is empathy. We all think the other has it all, and it is easy to imagine that they might be happy. But you can never know what the other person might be going through, hidden behind the façade of a picture perfect Instagram feed, fame or fortune. So being kind, empathetic and open to conversation is perhaps the only way to getting people with suicidal thoughts to find a safe space to share their feelings, and hopefully helping them out of the dark corners of their minds.