How prevalent is a depression in Bollywood? Important treat it as illness: Actors, Struggling actors, PR speak

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Sushant Singh Rajput’s untimely demise is the wakeup call to realize the need to acknowledge and understand depression as an ‘illness’. If we speak about the entertainment industry, in particular, depression has been predominantly affecting people who have learnt to put up a happy face for the public while continuing to suffocate in private.

Sushant Singh Rajput’s untimely demise is the wakeup call to realize the need to acknowledge and understand depression as an ‘illness’. If we speak about the entertainment industry, in particular, depression has been predominantly affecting people who have learnt to put up a happy face for the public while continuing to suffocate in private. There is no one reason we can point out for people to slip into depression. However, the amount of pressure that comes with the job, especially in the business which is all about perception, can be really difficult to deal with. We spoke to a couple of people from within the industry to understand the kind of pressure they face, what affects them the most, and how to identify it. 

Game of Perception

Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota actor Gulshan Devaiah SAYS ‘I understand people are angry over nepotism but their anger is misplaced.’

I think a lot of people are angry but I feel it is misplaced. I also feel that there is a narrative right now where people are anguished with nepotism but tell me do these people not follow favoritism? Jiski lathi uski bhians. It is about how to perceive it. It is a tough business, actually acting is easy, but being an actor is tough. Biggest of stars have to face rejections, have to go through lulls because it is all based on perception. It is not measured, choice and taste are different, it is all perceived notion, your market value, the adulation everything is a perceived notion, it is not real. There are no formulae to ascertain a person’s market value. That puts a lot of pressure on people and become a problem area. If you take everything personally, it will destroy you. 

Power Table and Need to spread awareness on depression
We also perpetuate this need to be liked and to be a part of the circle, and then you succumb to the imaginary pressure you put on yourself. I think we put so much pressure on ourselves, to look a certain way, smile a certain way, walk a certain way, you attend any event and there are power tables there where people hover over to get noticed. It is a game. How long can we do it? 

The greatest fear for an actor is to lose their relevancy. It happens so many times. It is such a competitive world, the pressures are enormous, so mental illness and awareness are critical. We have to think this out. Nobody understands depression well in the industry. Philosophy of lives won’t cure depression, it might be helpful to a friend who got dumped by his girlfriend, but not someone who has been diagnosed with clinical depression. We need to acknowledge that it is an illness and be patient with those people. People need to take depression seriously as an illness. Not everyone who is depressed needs to have medicines, I know people who can come out of it with proper therapy and counselling, but they have to acknowledge it. 

Bollywood – Not a FAMILY

Gulshan added, “I feel this entire notion of Bollywood being a family is wrong. There is no family. This entire myth needs to do away with it. Jo parivaar hai hi nahi toh uska hissa banane ki kya koshish karna? In a family when you do something wrong or are down, they will uplift you, but in a professional environment, that doesn’t happen, and then you get hurt because you expect them to behave like a family. It is a wrong idea that needs to be destroyed.”

An actor on condition of anonymity

The understanding of depression is so little in the industry that questions get raised when someone opens up. Half of the time people don’t acknowledge or reveal they are depressed fearing judgement, within the industry, by fans and others. A close actor friend of mine opened up on depression but all they were subjected to was judgement and name-calling which really upset them more. So, it is about understanding how to deal and be patient with people who are undergoing treatment for the same. 

Debina Bonnerjee (Actress who worked in many hit shows including Ramayan)

This is something that everyone’s asking all of us. We must see this as an illness just like any other illness. When someone gets diabetes or cancer, we do ask them questions. We don’t have any proper knowledge about depression that’s why we ask even more questions. We try to look for a reason always behind everything. This is there in every profession but unfortunately, in our field, when someone speaks up about it or takes a drastic step, people give an ear to it. It’s much more vocal then and it reaches a lot of people. If we actually want to listen to people and ask them to come out with their stories, you will notice it’s prevalent in every other profession, starting from a student to a CEO to an actor. Sometimes, all that we are worried about is the image: What will people think! It stands true for everyone in general. For example, a student who hasn’t got great marks and won’t stand at par with his parents’ expectations, he would start thinking about what his parents would think. Similarly for our industry, most feel what will the rest of our colleagues think about me if I come out? If I’m not able to keep with what I’ve been doing or do things as expected? That creates unnecessary pressure. But that’s not the only reason; it could be one reason to trigger it to an extreme limit. But it’s an illness and it’s either there or not there at all. In some people, when you try to hide this within you, you end up taking such drastic steps. The only solution is to speak up and tell your close ones about it, seek help. There shouldn’t be any shame or stigma attached to it. We should treat it like any other illness. If I have a swollen arm, I’d rush to the doctor without thinking about anything. I won’t be waiting for a year. The moment you start feeling you aren’t feeling the same way as you usually fell, it’s time you seek medical attention. I have been through it so I know how it feels. You are in the midst of people yet you are away; words don’t reach you regardless. You can sense the difference, so instead of feeling shy and scared, just talk about it. People might say, ‘it’s nothing, try and think positive, you’ll feel better’. That never happens until you take proper guidance from an expert or share it with people who will understand you and not judge you. It will never heal on its own, only professional help can heal you.

Muzammil Ibrahim (Supermodel; acted in films like Dhoka and recently released web series Special Ops)

There are two different worlds within one industry. One where everyone is a family and they compete against each other, and another the world of outsiders which is where the real depression prevails. And the insiders have no idea what real depression is out there. Obviously there is a high amount of unfairness because of nepotism which has led to further deteriorate the conditions of those trying to make it. Industry insiders are quite oblivious to their struggles, their pleadings and their plight. The way it has taken over the industry and shunned the real talent is very disturbing. Friendships change according to your curve of success, there are hardly a handful of genuine people you can lean onto. There is all kind of backbiting, slandering and smear campaigning by the privileged ones to bring careers down of those trying to get in, while outsiders are barely managing to make ends meet in a city like Mumbai. You really need to have a strong support system to combat all that, no matter how strong you are individually everyone has their weak moments and you can rely only on your family in those moments of weakness. And insiders will never know what real depression feels like.

The pressure faced by a PRs

Shweta Singh, a PR executive says:

You know, if I’m being honest there’s pressure everywhere but more so in the entertainment industry. The pressure to stay relevant, to connect, to be politically correct, constantly deliver good work, it’s exhausting. Especially if you’re someone who comes from humble beginnings with no impactful support to help to last longer than you would alone. If I talk about PR, yes it is a high-pressure, high-stress job and it can take a toll on you if you’re battling any mental health illnesses, and depression is a disease like any other. As publicists, we are expected to always have a solution, always speak politely and never talk back because if we do, there are consequences and in a profession where you can’t truly express your emotions all the time,  you end up bottling it all inside you. There are also times when you become the scapegoat in a time of crisis, your entire profession (PR) is questioned and spoken of in a negative light when all of us are just doing our jobs. People forget you’re just a human, an actual person who is doing his/her job like any other. That’s why you need an outlet, friends, people who understand you, ground you, help you find your sanity when you can’t do it yourself.

A struggling actress, Suranjana Biswas 

The road to glory is also a very slippery road. As an aspiring actor, I have seen a lot of upheavals having much lesser magnitude than the already established stars though, that is being spoken about in the current scenario. The first blow for any outsider coming to Bombay with dreams packed in his/her bags is the financial crunch. The cost of living is maddening. Sometimes people fail to cope up with the funds, not all families believe or can afford a lifestyle in the commercial capital. Then there are predators sitting at every nook and corner to exploit the actor’s plight, promising to make them fly with their little wings, actually clipping their wings.. making them bow down to them with obligations and favours in kind. Some also make big promises and if an actor refuses to favour him in kind, they ghost you in no minutes. It’s a choice really, some choose to remain righteousness and rely on their talents and some give up on their moral values to make the cut. I call it be patiently persistent, you wait for your turn. Other than waking up everyday and looking good, championing the Mumbai traffic, the heat with the makeup on sometimes not letting you breathe, after testing for an odd 150 200 auditions, one might get a chance to make a 10-second appearance, some might not even get that. The other major blow along with joblessness and being penniless is loneliness. You can’t see beneath the masks, you can’t stretch your arms towards anybody thinking he/she is here to stay. 90% of the aspiring actors are all by themselves, in moments of despair you see nobody saying “hang on buddy, I’m there if you need me”. You bloody tell that to yourself, pat and tuck yourself to bed, force yourself to sleep. The next morning it’s the same battle and you have to be out there unarmed. Vulnerable. But this can’t go on for ages, one has to convert, one is answerable to their respective families. The anxiety of constant self-doubt from not being able to score in an audition/meeting, peer pressure pushes one in the hole of depression! The world of showbiz is indeed not for the weak-hearted.

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