BY ANUJ RADIA 

A mental illness may not reveal its wounds, but the impact it has on an individual can be detrimental.

One of the most common mental health issues amidst the South-Asian diaspora in the UK is depression.

Frequently, there are misconceptions where this condition is mistaken to be simply about ‘feeling unhappy’ or ‘fed up’ for a few days. It is in fact, a lot more serious. 

Despite being the 21st century, in many countries, like India where the population is over a billion, an estimated 1 in 20 people suffers from depression because it is not acknowledged or even regarded as an illness. In fact, it is still considered to be a taboo. 

According to the British Asian Trust, Mental health issues affect 450 million people globally, including 90 million in South Asia.

However, there is only 1 psychiatrist for every 350,000 people in the region. This itself highlights how mental health is not treated seriously as much as it should. 

The NHS outlines numerous factors that can trigger depression. Anything including life-changing events, such as bereavement, losing your job or even having a baby, can be a reason. But regardless of the factor, it can be a very isolating ordeal.

People with a family history of depression are more likely to experience it themselves. However, an individual can also become depressed for no obvious reason.

When we talk about celebrities or Bollywood actors, it is easy to presume that their lives are far more perfect than an ordinary or common person. However, this is really not the case.

In the recent past, there have been major instances where two, very successful Bollywood actresses – Zaira Wasim and Deepika Padukone – have spoken about their experience of suffering from depression, in order to raise more awareness of this issue.

Zaira Wasim

Receiving immense fame at a young age is truly phenomenal. However, a mental ailment like depression can come at any age and under any circumstances.

Actor Zaira Wasim, 17, who rose to popularity with blockbuster Bollywood films like Dangal and Secret Superstar, has claimed that she has been suffering from depression for over four years, but was pushed into a “bubble of denial”.

The National Award winner opened up about her struggle via a lengthy post shared on Instagram last Thursday.

“I’m writing this to (finally) admit and confess that I, for a very long time have been suffering from depression,” Zaira wrote.

She reportedly felt “embarrassed and scared” to admit it not only because of the stigma that goes around with the word depression but most importantly because of always being told that ‘You’re too young to be depressed’ or ‘It’s just a phase’”.

The actor from Srinagar said she has sometimes popped five anti-depressants every day, faced anxiety attacks, was rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night, felt empty, restless, anxious and hallucinated, apart from having sore limbs from sleeping too much or not being able to sleep for weeks.

“From overeating to starving myself, unexplained fatigue, body ache, self-loathing, nervous breakdowns, suicidal thoughts, were all parts of this phase,” said Zaira, who made her debut with Aamir Khan’s 2016 drama Dangal.

Zaira said she knew something wasn’t right, however, people and doctors around her told her, “It’s nothing, you’re too young to be depressed”.

Her first panic attack was at the age of 12, and another one at 14.

“Now all I remember is losing count of the number of panic attacks, losing count of the number of medicines I’ve had and I’m still having…”

Zaira said she could never accept the fact that she suffers from a disorder called depression, which “affects almost 350 million people worldwide; without asking for their permission to ruin their mental and emotional state or asking them their age”.

Depression and anxiety is not a feeling, she explained. “It’s an illness. It’s not somebody’s choice or fault. It can affect anyone, anytime.”

Now she has embraced it and understood it, and decided to share about the struggle “without being ashamed, embarrassed and having the fear of being judged for it”.

Zaira said perhaps a “complete break from everything, my social life, my work, school and especially social media”, may help her.

“I’m really looking forward to the holy month of Ramadan as it may be the perfect opportunity to figure things out. Please remember me in your prayers.”

Deepika Padukone 

One of the highest paid actresses in Bollywood today, Deepika Padukone has conquered millions of hearts across the globe. She is gorgeous, highly successful and has a million dollar smile, but Deepika too has gone through depression.

In early 2014, while she was being appreciated for her work, Deepika woke up one morning, feeling different. A day earlier, she fainted due to exhaustion; it went downhill from there as she felt a strange emptiness in her stomach.

Initially mistaking it as stress, Deepika tried to divert her mind from work and tried to surround herself alongside people – which apparently helped for a while – but the nagging feeling did not disappear and Deepika herself claimed that her ‘breath was shallow’, she ‘suffered from lack of concentration’ which caused her to break down.

As time progressed, things deteriorated. One day, while Deepika spoke to her mother (Ujjwala Padukone) who realised the problem and got in touch with a psychologist friend, Anna Chandy, to discover the root of the cause. Padukone claimed:

“Every morning, it was a struggle to wake up and shoot for Happy New Year’s climax. Finally, I had a word with Anna aunty. She flew to Mumbai from Bengaluru, and I talked my heart out to her. She concluded that I was suffering from anxiety and depression.”

Initially, Deepika was hesitant to take medications and she thought that speaking about it was sufficient. Later, though, she met another psychologist – Dr Shyam Bhatt – in Bengaluru for a second opinion.

“There were days when I would feel okay, but at times, within a day, there was a roller-coaster of feelings. Finally, I accepted my condition. The counselling helped, but only to an extent. Then, I took medication, and today I am much better,” she described.

According to her interview with NDTV, the majority of Happy New Year was shot during this phase and before she commenced Piku, Deepika took a two-month break to recover mentally and physically. Things began to get better until she returned back to Mumbai.

“When I returned to Mumbai, I heard about a friend committing suicide due to anxiety and depression. It was a huge blow,” She explained. It is this unfortunate news combined with her personal experience to publicly raise awareness of depression.

The Padmaavat actress added:

“My personal experience, as well as my friend’s death, urged me to take up this issue, which isn’t usually talked about. There are shame and stigma attached to talking about depression. In fact, one in every four people suffers from anxiety and depression.”

Deepika claimed that overcoming depression has made her a stronger person and she now values her life much more: “Accepting it and speaking about it has liberated me. I have stopped taking medication, and I hope my example will help people reach out for help.”

In 2015, Deepika established The Live Love Laugh Foundation, which seeks to champion the cause of mental health in India, which particularly focuses on depression. 

Generally, it is truly courageous for well-known public figures like Zaira Wasim and Deepika Padukone to speak openly about a common yet lethal illness like depression. 

If anything, this has at least started a dialogue and raised awareness about mental health, not just in India, but worldwide too.

For an individual who suffers from depression, it is pivotal that one knows that they are not alone and there is help/support available, especially through organisations like Priory and SAHF (South Asian Health Foundation).